Politics & Policy

In The Belly of The Beast; Libertarians, Revisited


Of small interest to very close readers — and no interest whatsoever to everyone else — is that today’s column is the first one ever written within the walls of National Review itself, the sanctum sanctorum of American conservative journalism. To write in such august and legendary surroundings is indeed an honor. To write in such august and legendary surroundings, while wearing nothing but my underwear, seems to be very distracting to the regular staff, except for Richard Brookhiser, who tends to pad around the office in those pajamas with feet in them.

Anyway, since I am in New York City, Hymietown to followers of Jesse Jackson, it seems only fitting that we address the issue of Hillary-on-the-road-to-the-Senate’s conversion to Judaism. She announced to The Forward that her step-grandfather could tell a fresh bagel from a stale doughnut. It is indeed a stretch to say that her connection to the faith of my forefathers is a strong one, sort of like saying a fourth-party, post-dated, out-of-state check is as good as cash.

In fact the story has been over-played. Hillary isn’t a Jew, even if she’s playing one on TV. But the claim does explain a lot. First, it clears the air over why she’s determined to blame Bill’s problems on his mother and grandmother. Even faux Jews know that the mother’s pampering of the son is always to blame for any marital woes.

Yes, the story is pandering. She did learn at the feet of the master, after all. But who really cares if her step-grandfather was Jewish? It’s not like she doesn’t have the bulk of the New York liberal Jewish vote already sewn up. One is tempted to make some stinging indictment of the Left’s faith in identity politics. Hillary thinks that a tenuous connection with an ethnic group is an adequate substitute for actual accomplishment.

While this is no doubt true, the reality is that Hillary played this low-ranking race card because she has a political tin ear. In fact, one would be hard-pressed to find a single inspired political idea in the whole Hillary oeuvre. From her graduation speech at Wellesley to her politics of meaning (become one with your inner child while changing the toner cartridge) to crafting a health-care program so Byzantine and monstrous that her own party wouldn’t bring it for a vote to running for the Senate and telling a reporter that she’s never made a decision on her own, it is everywhere evident that she is politically dim.


The angry libertarians are still writing in. Let me be clear: Some of my best friends are libertarians. I voted for the libertarian candidate in 1992. The Overlord of National Review himself, William F. Buckley Jr., describes himself a “libertarian journalist.” I’d let my daughter marry a libertarian (this of course discounts, rightly, the many off-color jokes about libertarian sexual preferences one hears from time to time in Washington. Such as the one about the wag who dropped his wallet at the Cato Institute and had to kick it all the way to Brookings before he’d pick it up). But should it be shocking that libertarians bring a different perspective to public-policy issues?

This is my last foray into the wilds of the libertarian-conservative rift for a while. But there’s one point that many of the worshippers at Mount Pelerin brought up that is worth addressing. I suggested on Friday that public education once worked and was consigned to the machinations of the market voluptuaries because it had been so corrupted by the liberal social scientists, et al., as to make it unworkable. Dozens of libertarians confidently wrote me saying that an enlightened libertarian would have been able to predict the eventual debasement of public education from first principles. To this, one can only respond with a sigh. When would the libertarians have predicted such a thing? 1820? 1890? 1920? 1970? How many generations of well-educated, well-habituated citizens would have to pour out of public schools before the libertarians would have exposed the scam?

Working institutions fail because of the damage done to them by people. Some public schools are still doing great today. Should their administrators and teachers quit now, because their eventual failure was foretold in The Road to Serfdom? Please.

There is a rule of thumb that many jokingly call “Stein’s Law,” after the economist Herb Stein, who authored it. It says that all trends that aren’t permanent must eventually stop. This is true. But the trend of good education stopped not because of some abstract libertarian principle or law but because human beings of good will failed to keep the trend going.

While I am done with the topic for a while, clearly many of you are not. If you would like to read more about the debate between the two camps, the best place to turn is the classic Freedom and Virtue, recently republished by the Intercollegiate Studies Institute.


I am a liar. I lied, lied, lied when I said I would run corrections and clarifications today. It turns out that the people here at National Review expect me to work. So, alas, it will have to wait for another day.


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