Pure Koch, ‘Scoop’ Clinton, and the Two Rands

by Peter Augustine Lawler

From one view, we conservatives should just not talk about the Koch brothers. Not because we (well, not me) take money from them to undertake projects with which they wouldn’t fully agree.  But because Koching it up is a strategy deployed by Harry Reid (on the advice of a savvy consultant) to demonize Republican policies. Demonization works better if it’s not directed against abstractions but connected with real flesh-and-blood demons. The truth is that the Koch brothers are working hard and effectively to make the world better, even if they, like us all, are distorted by the devil’s vice of pride.

I did read an excellent review essay by Justin Raimondo in The American Conservative on those Kochs. Here are some quick takeaways: They are highly talented, super-productive, and live the individualistic principles which they hold to be self-evident. All that is admirable and good, to a point. Their principles are those that are connected with the John Birchers, the Austrian economists, Ayn Rand, the Libertarian party, etc. They are also the principles of the Cato Institute, which they now dominate. That means they want to dismantle the welfare state, are “left libertarian” on all the personal-autonomy issues, and are wholehog for markets and against politics, because the latter inevitably leads to rent-seeking and war. Bottom line: They’re for individualism and against collectivism, and collectivism includes both totalitarianism and any trumping of democracy over liberty. Our super-threader Djf — as well as Carl, the polymorphous theorist of liberty — reminds us of the considerable distance between libertarian theorists these days and the psychological astuteness and general prudence of the classical political philosophers. Extremism in defense of liberty may be no vice, unless the extremist has an extremely unrealistic view of what human liberty is and how best to sustain it.

Now the Kochs first tried to turn America around through the Libertarian party. That didn’t get anywhere. So they focused their efforts on trying to improve the Republican party and bring it to power. They formed a kind of popular front with other conservatives to oust the progressive soft despot Obama, and they were satisfied that Mitt Romney was the man for the job. They spent a massive amount of money — but they spent it stupidly — and Romney barely did better than McCain, whose campaign was really stupid and almost laughably underfunded. The showdown was between their (meaning Karl Rove et al.’s) big data and that Obama’s Silicon Valley big data, and it’s obvious, of course, which part of our cognitive elite turns turned out to be more cognitive. The president’s men and women were much better in deploying computers and money to really mobilize the “grassroots,” to make sure they identified, catered to, and got to the polls every conceivable Obama vote.

Now the opinion of the Kochs seems to that the defeat, in large part, can be blamed on the doltish diversions of the tea partiers and other social conservatives away from the real — that is, the economic-liberty — issues. There might be (I’m not sure) some truth to that; Romney, after all, was not well positioned to campaign hard against Obamacare. But Romney also underperformed among social conservatives such as our Evangelicals. And his biggest problem, truth to tell, is that he came off as too oligarchic — too much for catering to the interests of the “job creators” and indifferent to the struggles of ordinary guys. Obama, by contrast, claimed to have the latter’s back.

And most voters, after all, don’t really agree with the Cato-ism of the Kochs. They are conservatives in the precise sense. They really don’t buy the progressive baloney about bigger and better entitlements. But neither do they want to lose what they have. So they don’t buy the unfettered techno-progressivism of the libertarians either. The proper Republican position, from this electoral view, is to be about mending — not ending — our entitlements by making them more sustainably market-sensitive. (See Yuval Levin et al.’s Room to Grow.) Most voters also believe American patriots aren’t suckers.

The American conservative Justin says, with good reasons, that only misguided pride keeps the Kochs from abandoning the Rove–Romney Republican establishment (astonishingly, the evidence is there that Mitt is gearing up to run again) and signing on with Rand Paul. Rand, after all, pretty much actually agrees with them (and their Ms. Rand and their isolationist Cato-ism), and his is a genuine grass-roots movement that has captured the imagination of some ordinary people.

So let’s say that happens and Rand Paul gets the Republican nomination as a result. What do Republican social conservatives, hawks (relatively speaking), and Yuvalian reformers do? What happens to those Republicans who think in terms of citizens, creatures, and parents as well as autonomous individuals?

For one thing, maybe they don’t have to do much. I’ve already suggested why, finally, it’s highly unlikely that Rand Paul could actually be elected president. (I do think it’s possible he could get the nomination, and his performance so far has been impressive.)

But would it make sense to actually prefer Hillary “Scoop” Clinton, who would have a foreign policy alive to the fact that superpowers don’t get to retire? That would mean surrendering on the social issues, the activist judiciary, and so forth. But, as Carl reminded us, libertarian theorists and leftist theorists don’t really disagree much on the judicial-activism front. And, as has been said a billion times in the last few days, all the social/cultural trends in opinion support the Koch–Clinton position on those autonomy issues. Our Pete has said that, as far as he can tell, Clinton is short on principles and long on doing what it takes to prevail in a hostile environment. Well, there’s a lot to be said for that approach, when applied to foreign policy.

Or would it make sense to prefer Rand Paul, who would do what’s required to promote economic growth and ease our crippling debt?

The big issue might be whether domestic or foreign policy takes precedence when it comes to the sustainability of liberty in our country.

One more point: This hypothetical scenario depends on Ms. Clinton getting the Democratic nomination, which I think is fairly unlikely. A more hellish choice, of course, would be between Rand Paul and Elizabeth Warren. A more interesting choice would be between RP and Martin O’Malley of Maryland. Despite my disagreements with him in many policy areas, there’s no denying that O’Malley has a long record of executive competence as an energetic mayor and governor. (Well, maybe I’m too influenced by The Wire.)