After a hiatus in 2012, I’m sorry to report that “Personhood for Zygotes” is on the ballot again in Colorado in 2014. However, I’m pleased to announce that Ari Armstrong and I will update 2010 policy paper in defense of abortion rights in light of the very much changed political landscape. Once again, we need your support to make that happen!


Colorado’s New “Personhood for Zygotes” Amendment

Despite the defeats of “personhood” measures in 2008 and 2010, the crusaders against abortion rights have returned with yet another attempt to grant the full legal rights of personhood to fertilized eggs.

The ballot question reads:

Shall there be an amendment to the Colorado constitution protecting pregnant women and unborn children by defining “person” and “child” in the Colorado criminal code and the Colorado wrongful death act to include unborn human beings? (Full Text)

If successful, this measure would outlaw therapeutic and elective abortions, common fertility treatments, and popular forms of birth control. It would subject women and their doctors to intrusive police controls and unjust criminal prosecutions. It would force Coloradoans to abide by the deeply religious and sectarian view that the fertilized egg is imbued with rights from God.

Due to its misleading wording — particularly its talk of “protecting pregnant women” — 2014′s Amendment 67 will likely fare significantly better in the polls than the “personhood” amendments proposed in 2008 and 2010. It’s unlikely to pass, but that doesn’t mean that abortion rights are secure. The dangerous ideology of “personhood” has spread like wildfire in the past four years among religious conservatives. In the 2012 presidential election, every Republican candidate except Mitt Romney endorsed “personhood for zygotes.”

The ideology of “personhood for zygotes” must be steadfastly opposed — based on a firm understanding of rights in pregnancy — not merely because “it goes too far.”


Support a 2014 Paper in Defense of Abortion Rights

To combat the dangerous ideology of “personhood” and defend abortion rights on principle, Ari Armstrong and I will publish a new version of their policy paper on the “personhood” movement. The updates to the paper will focus on the new language in 2014′s Amendment 67, the widespread embrace of “personhood” by the Republican Party in the 2012 election, the synergy between “incremental” and “personhood” approaches to abortion bans, the defeat of a “personhood” amendment in Mississippi, and more.

However, that work depends on your support! The update to the paper will only go forward if at least $1500 is pledged by August 20th. That will help pay for the many hours of work this update will require. If sufficient funds are pledged, the 2014 paper will be published by September 17th.

So, if you want to help defend abortion rights in this 2014 election, please pledge! Any amount is welcome, and your pledge is not due until the paper is published.

Note: Due to efforts of the Center for Competitive Politics on CSG’s behalf, Diana hopes that she will not have to report on funds collected for this project, as she’s been obliged to do in prior elections. Time — or rather the judge — will tell. In any case, pledges for this paper are helping us have a viable case with which to challenge Colorado’s onerous campaign finance laws.

If you have any questions about the project or pledging, please email me.

Don’t Celebrate Political Polarization

 Posted by on 18 June 2014 at 10:00 am  Election, Politics, Polls
Jun 182014
 

From America’s growing political polarization:

Unfortunately, both Republicans and Democrats are ardent opponents of individual rights in various domains. That’s why I don’t regard America’s growing political polarization as a good trend. It limits our choices — and many people’s thinking — to “economic freedom (sort-of) plus theocratic social controls” versus “social freedom (sort-of) plus fascist economic controls.” Alas, the statist elements seem to be growing in both parties of late.

Instead, people need a clear choice of freedom versus statist controls in all areas of life. Nonetheless, the widening gap is fascinating… and there’s more in the Pew Study too. (The year-by-year animated graph is pretty nifty.) I’d just like to see data for more than 20 years!

Voter Fraud: Jon Caldara’s “Stunt”

 Posted by on 24 September 2013 at 10:00 am  Election, Law, Politics
Sep 242013
 

Wow. Jon Caldara was allowed to vote in Colorado’s recent recall election due to Colorado’s flimsy election laws. He blogs:

I committed an act of civil obedience.

I’ve lived in Boulder for nearly 30 years, yet I just cast a ballot in the Colorado Springs recall election. I did so by legally using the irresponsibly lax new election law.

Now, we might not agree on policy or even political candidates, but I hope we all agree that everyone should know their full voting rights. Our election law changed drastically when Governor Hickenlooper signed into law House Bill 13-1303. And everyone, not just the political team that concocted and rushed it through the process, should know how the law works and their new rights under it.

My act of civil obedience proved a simple truth – under this law voters can now be legally shuffled around in the last moments of a campaign, to any district around the state where their votes are needed most.

If this law stands, the future of Colorado elections will be decided by which campaign has the most buses.

Notably, HB-1303 forced elections to use mail-in ballots. Meaning if you are registered to vote, your ballot will be flung through the mail like a grocery store coupon, whether you want it to or not. As sloppy as that is, that’s not the worst part.

HB-1303 permits you to register and vote the same day in any district in Colorado you like, no matter where you were living just moments before. Basically anyone who has been, well, anywhere in Colorado for 22 days (a pleasant 3 week vacation), has an address in the district, and is over 18 can now vote in any district, anywhere in the state on election day if they affirm they have the “intention” of making that district their permanent home.

To educate voters of their new voter rights we created www.BringInTheVote.com, where you can get more details. But to drive the point home, I went to a polling location in the Springs, told them I’m living there now and I’d like to vote. I signed the form, they gave me a ballot, and I cast it.

While I cast a blank ballot as a new Colorado Springs resident, I could have just as easily voted “yes” for the recall. Thankfully, enough of my new neighbors did that for me.

The Denver Post covered the news and published an editorial too.

Amazing. I’m glad we have a stuntman like Jon in Colorado!

 

A few days ago, I read this hysterical article — Should You Send a Lady a Dick Pic? A Guide for Men — which includes gems like the following:

Scenario 1: You’re on OKCupid and you have been exchanging messages with an attractive woman who you strongly believe is interested in seeing your penis. She hasn’t exactly come right out and asked you about your penis, but you’re pretty sure she wants to see it. Like, 60% sure. Also, you’re drunk.

Should you send the lady a dick pic? No.

And:

Scenario 5: You’re so mad at your ex girlfriend and you want to remind her that there’s no possible way her new boyfriend’s penis could measure up to your penis, which is great. Also, you’re drunk. You’re so, so drunk.

Should you send this lady a dick pic? God, seriously? No.

I was thereby inspired to create a handy flowchart for any man considering sending a picture of his man-parts to a lady:

On a more serious note, I recommend this blog post by the always-fabulous Katie Granju: Carlos Danger: I’ve Touched That Hot Stove, And I Can’t Recommend It. Here are the first few paragraphs:

Like most Americans, I love a good comeback story. And those who know me personally will tell you that my Pollyanna-ish willingness to believe people when they swear up and down to me that they’ve changed, that they want to change, is pretty much unlimited. I am a sucker for a sincere sounding apology along with promises to forge ahead with fresh insights and honorable intent.

Yep, I’ve always been the girl who will touch that hot stove more than a few times just because someone – and let’s be honest here and admit that in my life, I’ve most often been taken in by those someones of the he persuasion – seems sincere when he tells me that he’s changed, and when he swears on all that’s holy to me that it’s gonna be different this time.

The scars on my hands from all those burns in years past are good reminders to me of how poorly that strategy always seems to work out. But they also require me to own up to the fact that I definitely have a personal history of allowing the Carlos Dangers of the world to yank my chain again and again and again, with generally disastrous consequences.

In recent years, however, I’ve toughened up a bit, and I believe that I have become better able to spot trouble as it heads toward my table to ask whether it/he can buy me a drink.

Go read the rest!

I’ve been thinking along these same lines lately — particularly about the “red flags” seen in friends that should motivate me to add some distance — if not cut ties completely. In the past, I’ve not been tuned in to those red flags — or I’ve dismissed them as personality differences or aberrations — or I’ve bought into the person’s commitment to change. As a result, I’ve been burned, often quite badly. I will maintain my benevolence, but I won’t be such a sucker in future. As a matter of justice, I will notice those red flags, then keep my distance from people unwilling to meet the basic standards for “sane” and “decent.”

As it happens, I’ll be discussing this very issue on Sunday’s Philosophy in Action Radio… so be sure to tune in!

Feb 202013
 

If you thought that only Republicans made idiotic comments about rape, think again. According to Colorado Democrat Joe Salazar, women on campus are incapable of understanding the basics of self-defense law, and so they should be disarmed so that they don’t “pop a round at somebody.”

Here’s what he said:

There are some gender inequities on college campuses. This is true. And universities have ben faced with that situation for a long time. It’s why we have call boxes. That’s why we have safe zones. That’s why we have the whistles. Because you just don’t know who you’re gonna be shooting at. And you don’t know if you feel like you’re gonna be raped, or if you feel like someone’s been following you around or if you feel like you’re in trouble — and when you may actually not be, that you pop out that gun and you pop, pop a round at somebody.

Basically, the Democrats want to disarm women, so that they can’t fight off a rapist. Then the Republicans want to prevent those women from obtaining Plan B or an abortion, if they get pregnant. It’s lovely to see both sides united in the “War Against Women.”

Also, University of Colorado at Colorado Springs advises women to “Tell your attacker that you have a disease or are menstruating” and “Vomiting or urinating may also convince the attacker to leave you alone.” Because nothing could go wrong with that, right? (Note: That wasn’t posted in response to any of the recent debates about gun control, thankfully.)

Here’s what I said about the importance of allowing concealed carry on campus in a prior blog post:

When I was a graduate student at CU Boulder, I had to walk a few blocks off-campus, through a residential neighborhood, to get to my car. I took classes in the evening on occasion, and during those times, my walk was dark and lonely. Like other students, I’d receive periodic reports of sexual assaults just off-campus, and that worried me.

The police chief’s advice of carrying a “safety whistle” was pure absurdity to me. If I was attacked, that wouldn’t do me a lick of good. Also, I knew that I couldn’t hope to outrun my attacker: I’m a slow sprinter, and even in elementary school, I only ever beat the fat girl in running the 50-yard dash. Really, I wanted my “safety Ruger” — because that could have actually kept me safe! Instead, I often took Kate, my German Shepherd with me to those late classes. She probably wouldn’t have helped much if I’d been attacked, but she might have deterred a criminal.

Moreover, in the wake of school shootings, I hated to think of being disarmed and defenseless, particularly as a teacher in a classroom full of terrified students. I’d have an obligation to protect my students as best as I could, yet I’d be unable to do much of anything. I hated that with a passion.

I suspect (and even hope, somewhat) that the Democrats have reached their high-water-mark in Colorado with these new gun controls… if only the Republicans don’t out-stupid them before the 2014 election.

The Mathematics of Voting

 Posted by on 26 December 2012 at 10:00 am  Election, Mathematics, Politics
Dec 262012
 

Undoubtedly, the award for “The Funniest Story of the 2012 Election” goes to “Candidate’s Wife Sleeps In, Misses Tie-Breaking Vote“:

Katie MacDonald was joking the night before Tuesday’s election when she told her husband – a candidate for city council in the small town of Walton, Kentucky – that if he didn’t wake her up to vote the next day, the race would end up as a tie. He should have taken her more seriously.

Katie, who works night shifts at a hospital as a nurse assistant while finishing up training as a nurse, didn’t wake up in time to vote. Now her husband, Robert, is involved in a 669 to 669 vote tie with his opponent Olivia Ballou.

“Well, obviously she was upset about it,” Robert MacDonald told ABC News. “She feels bad, but it was me who was in charge of waking her up and making sure she got out to vote. I’ve tried to be nice to her today. It’s her birthday.”

Robert MacDonald, 27, intends to request a re-canvassing, a simple re-tally of the vote, which will take place next Thursday. If the result is the same, the winner will be determined by coin toss.

Even with in such small races with just a few hundred voters on each side, such an outcome is highly, highly unlikely. As Katherine Mangu-Ward explains in this article in Reason:

In all of American history, a single vote has never determined the outcome of a presidential election. And there are precious few examples of any other elections decided by a single vote. A 2001 National Bureau of Economic Research paper by economists Casey Mulligan and Charles Hunter looked at 56,613 contested congressional and state legislative races dating back to 1898. Of the 40,000 state legislative elections they examined, encompassing about 1 billion votes cast, only seven were decided by a single vote (two were tied). A 1910 Buffalo contest was the lone single-vote victory in a century’s worth of congressional races. In four of the 10 ultra-close campaigns flagged in the paper, further research by the authors turned up evidence that subsequent recounts unearthed margins larger than the official record initially suggested.

The numbers just get more ridiculous from there. In a 2012 Economic Inquiry article, Columbia University political scientist Andrew Gelman, statistician Nate Silver, and University of California, Berkeley, economist Aaron Edlin use poll results from the 2008 election cycle to calculate that the chance of a randomly selected vote determining the outcome of a presidential election is about one in 60 million. In a couple of key states, the chance that a random vote will be decisive creeps closer to one in 10 million, which drags voters into the dubious company of people gunning for the Mega-Lotto jackpot. The authors optimistically suggest that even with those terrible odds, you may still choose to vote because “the payoff is the chance to change national policy and improve (one hopes) the lives of hundreds of millions, compared to the alternative if the other candidate were to win.” But how big does that payoff have to be to make voting worthwhile?

If you’re interested more on this topic, I interviewed historian Dr. Eric Daniels on “Why Voting Doesn’t Matter” in this October 2012 episode of Philosophy in Action Radio:

 

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!

Political Ignorance in America

 Posted by on 3 December 2012 at 11:00 am  Activism, Culture, Election, Politics
Dec 032012
 

It’s a fact that most Americans pay very little attention to politics. Personally, I exert almost no effort whatsoever to learn about current events in politics. I’m not subscribed to any newspapers or magazines. I don’t scan any online news aggregators or sources. I don’t read political blogs. For better or worse, I learn about pretty much all the major political news via Facebook. That works because I have a whole lot of friends interested in politics, and I read articles that look interesting. Most people, however, don’t follow any political news.

Consider this story, blogged under the heading “Most people just barely care about politics.”

The title of this post was driven home to me at a party last night. I was talking to a friend and one of his friends, and they were marveling over the Lincoln movie. They were quite impressed that Lincoln was a Republican and the one who ended slavery, and they felt like this is an under-appreciated fact these days.

The one that I know is a very casual Republican-every four years he notices there’s an election, notices that the Republican seems pretty nice and congenial to his views, pulls the lever, and then forgets politics. If I mention something from the news-anything at all-he’s like “What?” Name the political news story, and it’s news to him. He’s usually suspicious of me for bringing it up, because he hasn’t heard about it and he wonders where I’m getting all this. I’m not going to indict the entire GOP for this one low-information voter, because he has counterparts on the other side. I only bring it up to make the point that he and his friend are not apologists or revisionists talking about Lincoln to argue that the Democrats are The Real Racists. They are guys who were just genuinely blown away by this revelation. If I had mentioned that Nixon oversaw the creation of the EPA, they’d probably be all “Wow, people these days think Republicans are opposed to the environment, but look at Nixon!” and not because they want to persuade an environmentalist to vote Republican (they don’t care all that much), just because their minds will have been blown and they’ll want the entire world to share in this revelation.

Anyway, I gave a mini-lecture on how the Democrats were once the party of the South, but then the left wing of the party gained ascendance with the New Deal, and when LBJ passed the Civil Rights Act Goldwater had an opening to go after the South, and this set in motion a generation-long process where the parties swapped large portions of their constituencies, but the underlying coalitions remain mostly the same as before despite the new party labels. My friend was all “How do you know this?” He was genuinely baffled.

I think we need to keep this in mind when we think about political discourse in our country.

Do you think that’s just an isolated case? Think again. Americans are remarkably ignorant of politics.

The most comprehensive surveys [of the political knowledge of Americans], the National Election Studies (NES), were carried out by the University of Michigan beginning in the late 1940s. What these studies showed was that Americans fall into three categories with regard to their political knowledge. A tiny percentage know a lot about politics, up to 50%-60% know enough to answer very simple questions, and the rest know next to nothing.

Contrary to expectations, by many measures the surveys showed the level of ignorance remaining constant over time. In the 1990s, political scientists Michael X. Delli Carpini and Scott Keeter concluded that there was statistically little difference between the knowledge of the parents of the Silent Generation of the 1950s, the parents of the Baby Boomers of the 1960s, and American parents today. (By some measures, Americans are dumber today than their parents of a generation ago.)

Some of the numbers are hard to fathom in a country in which for at least a century all children have been required by law to attend grade school or be home-schooled. Even if people do not closely follow the news, one would expect them to be able to answer basic civics questions, but only a small minority can.

In 1986, only 30% knew that Roe v. Wade was the Supreme Court decision that ruled abortion legal more than a decade earlier. In 1991, Americans were asked how long the term of a United States senator is. Just 25% correctly answered six years. How many senators are there? A poll a few years ago found that only 20% know that there are 100 senators, though the number has remained constant for the last half century (and is easy to remember). Encouragingly, today the number of Americans who can correctly identify and name the three branches of government is up to 40%.

Polls over the past three decades measuring Americans’ knowledge of history show similarly dismal results. What happened in 1066? Just 10% know it is the date of the Norman Conquest. Who said the “world must be made safe for democracy”? Just 14% know it was Woodrow Wilson. Which country dropped the nuclear bomb? Only 49% know it was their own country. Who was America’s greatest president? According to a Gallup poll in 2005, a majority answer that it was a president from the last half century: 20% said Reagan, 15% Bill Clinton, 12% John Kennedy, 5% George W. Bush. Only 14% picked Lincoln and only 5%, Washington.

And the worst president? For years Americans would include in the list Herbert Hoover. But no more. Most today do not know who Herbert Hoover was, according to the University of Pennsylvania’s National Annenberg Election Survey in 2004. Just 43% could correctly identify him.

The only history questions a majority of Americans can answer correctly are the most basic ones. What happened at Pearl Harbor? A great majority know: 84%. What was the Holocaust? Nearly 70% know. (Thirty percent don’t?) But it comes as something of a shock that, in 1983, just 81% knew who Lee Harvey Oswald was and that, in 1985, only 81% could identify Martin Luther King, Jr.

I’ll make three points about the above passage:

First, “A tiny percentage know a lot about politics, up to 50%-60% know enough to answer very simple questions, and the rest know next to nothing.”

Activism can be effective in politics. In 2007, a small group of Colorado Objectivists was largely the reason why “health care reform” (read: socialized medicine) fizzled. Yet such efforts shouldn’t be confused with influencing the American voters. The vast majority of people don’t follow politics closely enough for that.

Second: “Contrary to expectations, by many measures the surveys showed the level of ignorance remaining constant over time.”

The political ignorance of Americans shouldn’t be an excuse to gripe about modern times. We’ve all heard it: “People today are consumed by their own petty interests. They’re too busy posting about their breakfasts on Facebook to notice that the world is going to hell around them. In the past, Americans cared about the wider world! No more…” In fact, the levels of American ignorance about politics haven’t changed — and they’re not likely to change.

Third: I don’t lament the fact that Americans are wildly ignorant of politics; it’s not a cause for pessimism in my view. Why not?

The vast majority political news has little impact on people’s lives. Even when some issue matters, most people aren’t willing or able to much about it. They lack the requisite knowledge, skills, and time. They’d have to sacrifice too many crucial values — like their kids, work, or hobbies — to engage in any significant political activism. That’s why I think that most people are better off ignoring current events in politics in order to pursue the values that actually matter to them. Their ignorance is pretty darn rational.

In contrast, most persistent citizen-activists — such as my own Paul Hsieh of Freedom and Individual Rights in Medicine and Atlee Breeland of Parents Against Personhood — aren’t motivated just by the prospect of political change. That’s not enough to sustain even a highly capable person. Instead, these activists discover a host of significant values in the work itself. That’s part of what makes them so rare and so valuable.

All of that is part of why I think fostering a culture that respects individual rights requires reaching people where their values are, rather than expecting them to magically develop an interest in politics. Only a few people will ever be political junkies — thank goodness!

 

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?

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