Thursday, September 22, 2011

There's Another Debate Tonight, and This Time the Guy I Like Is In It

What's this, a post that's just a link to a thing, with no additional commentary? That's right. I don't normally do this,[1] but I'm making an exception in order to help spread the word about Gary Johnson, who has managed to claw his way into tonight's debate,[2] hosted and televised by Fox News:
Gary Johnson, the Republican presidential candidate who has labored in obscurity, is about to get his moment in the spotlight—for one night, at least.

Johnson will be included in Thursday's Fox News debate in Orlando, the first time he will share a stage with his eight rivals—over the objections of the Florida Republican Party.
Take that, The Man!

Anyway, Johnson is my favorite Republican candidate, so I figured calling attention to this debate is (slightly more than) the least I can do. And I felt the need to do something, since I just devoted two whole articles to my second-favorite Republican candidate.

1. Not that I have anything against blogs that generate a lot of content in the hey-here's-a-link-to-a-thing format—some of them are among my favorites—but it's just not a style I'm comfortable with, in large part because I know I wouldn't be able to stick with it.
2. Are these debates—now occurring at a rate of roughly two per month, and we're still 11 months away from the convention—becoming a chore to keep track of? Absolutely. Is there a detailed chart on Wikipedia that does most of the work for you? Of course there is.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Ron Paul vs. The Lamestream Media

I've posted a number of articles here that reflect my lack of tolerance for accusations of media bias. Even setting aside the frequency with which the "Bias!" label is thrown at opinions, predictions, jokes, and other things clearly not intended to be objective, I tend to find the discussions surrounding media bias more redundant and distracting than constructive. Of course the media is biased—the liberal media has a liberal bias, and the conservative media has a conservative bias.[1] The liberal media is larger and more pervasive, while the conservative media is louder and more knowingly partisan, so it seems like it roughly cancels out, and regardless they're both pretty terrible at doing the important things we (naively?) expect the media to do.

Even worse, a lot of complaints of media bias are actually cases of the Sarah Palin Paradox (I just now made up the name, but it's something I wrote about back in April), which goes like this: If you're capable, via the printed word or some form of electronic transmission, of making it widely known that you feel your voice is being suppressed by the media, then your voice is no longer being suppressed, for you have in fact used the media to amplify it. And if you're capable of making it widely known that you feel your message is being distorted, then your message is no longer being distorted, for you have used the media to clarify it.

I say all this primarily to establish some credibility. Now, when I spend the rest of this article doing exactly what I can't stand—griping about media bias—it should be that much more meaningful. Or hypocritical.

Anyway, last week I wrote about a question Ron Paul was asked in whichever of the last half dozen Republican debates was moderated by Chris Wallace: "Are you suggesting that heroin and prostitution are an exercise of liberty?" Paul's response—that things like that should be decided at the state level, and, by the way, maybe we should have more faith in our ability to not do things that are dangerous, regardless of legality—was reported on with all the nuance and subtlety of a Michael Bay-directed action sequence. For example, here's a quote from a Time article about Obama's re-election chances:
[F]ive of the Republican candidates for President gathered in South Carolina for their first official debate. It was a weird show, newsworthy only because Congressman Ron Paul came out in favor of legalizing heroin, cocaine and prostitution.
And an editorial by Dana Milbank of the Washington Post, which discussed the debate via the condescending premise that none of the "adults" attended, leaving the "juveniles" on their own:
At Thursday night’s debate in South Carolina, Libertarian Rep. Ron Paul explained why heroin and prostitution should be legal and why the Department of Homeland Security should be eliminated.
And a Mother Jones piece listing "Ron Paul's 15 Most Extreme Positions":
7. Let the Oldest Profession Be: Paul wants to legalize prostitution at the federal level.
8. Legalize All Drugs: Including cocaine and heroin.
As I pointed out last week, Paul didn't argue for legalization; he argued for leaving it up to the states, which is very different, but whatever. The knee-jerk reaction to the idea of legalizing heroin makes a little bit of sense to me, as far as knee-jerk reactions go (talk about setting the bar low), but the righteous indignation over prostitution couldn't be more absurd, because prostitution is legal at the federal level. Apparently it never occurred to these journalists to ask themselves (or, even better, a knowledgeable bystander) just what the hell is going on in Nevada.[2]

So there's your media bias. A Republican presidential candidate—who, it should be noted, is doing alright in the polls—is widely ridiculed for, really, nothing. Especially in terms of the prostitution issue, where he merely offered an unemphatic defense of the legal status quo. And he wasn't even the one who brought it up.

Fortunately, there's a watchdog group out there combating anti-conservative bias with so much zealotry, they've been known to confuse bias with the mere asking of a difficult question.[3] Here's what NewsBusters had to say about the media's treatment of Ron Paul after that debate:
That's right, nothing.[4] And nothing from Media Matters either. Or Politifact. Or just about anyone else. The most prominent media outlet I can find that consistently sticks up for Paul's more socially libertarian views is, which is one of my favorite sites, but it's not exactly a media juggernaut.

Remember the Sarah Palin Paradox from earlier? How her portrayal of herself as the victim of an antagonistic media is undermined by her success in cultivating that image? Ron Paul is the person she's pretending to be. He's the one who says things the "lamestream media" doesn't want you to hear. He's the one who has to take his message straight to the people, because the media can't be bothered to simply report the facts fairly and objectively. He's the one whose voice is being suppressed.[5] And does he spend even half as much time complaining about how he's treated?

Really, I'm asking. Does he? If he does, I never hear about it.

1. That people can't seem to agree on even that much is an endless source of frustration. As is the closely-related inability to recognize that whatever your favorite source of commentary happens to be, it's still almost definitely biased in some way or another. In fact, that's probably why you like it.
2. This is as good a place as any to rant about Harry Reid's bizarre decision earlier this year to call on the legislators in his home state to ban prostitution:
Describing a meeting he had with a firm that would have opened a data center in the state—"a move that would have created desperately needed jobs"—Reid said the executives balked because prostitution remains legal in Nevada.

"Nevada needs to be known as the first place for innovation and investment—not as the last place where prostitution is still legal," he continued. "When the nation thinks about Nevada, it should think about the world's newest ideas and newest careers—not about its oldest profession."
So…the way to create jobs is to shut down an industry that employs thousands of people and exists (legally) only in Nevada, thereby enticing a handful of (possibly fictional) investors who want to do business in a place that's just like the other 49 states, except more desert-y. Whatever Reid's ulterior motive was (and I'm sure he had one, because there's no other reason to lazily advocate something with no chance of happening), I hope it backfired.
3. For example, there was this NewsBusters' article from January, which I had started to write about, but then the Tucson shooting happened and made it seem even more pointless than usual:
NBC's Meredith Vieira seemed baffled by the concept of taking a principled stand against Obamacare, as she repeatedly pressed Michele Bachmann, on Thursday's Today show, why Republicans would bother to vote to repeal the health care bill in the House if it wasn't going to get passed in the Senate or signed by the President? Vieira's very first question to the Republican Minnesota Congresswoman set the aggressive tone for the entire interview as she demanded: "Given the fact that the Democratic-led Senate will never go for that and the President has veto power, why make that the first big thing on your plate?"
So…House efforts to repeal healthcare reform were virtually guaranteed to have no tangible effect, which raises the obvious question of why House Republicans felt this was a worthwhile use of their time. It's not bias that Vieira asked Bachmann to defend the repeal effort. It would've been unprofessional not to ask. (Bachmann's defense of the repeal, in part: "Because it's not symbolic. It's real." She keeps using that word, "real". I do not think it means what she thinks it means.)
4. Granted, NewsBusters is supportive of Paul from time to time, like after the most recent debate:
On Tuesday, Chris Matthews wrongly accused Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul of saying during the previous evening's debate he would let a critically ill person die if the patient didn't have health insurance.

Exactly how does Matthews and others on his so-called "news" network continue to get away with such blatant misrepresentations?
So…it's not like they refuse to come to Paul's defense altogether. They just don't do it unless they agree with him. Have I mentioned before that the overall level of respectability of America's various media watchdog organizations is distressingly low? (Yes, I have.)
5. Wow, I tried to hold it together, but it's really hard to complain about the media without sounding like a crazy person. Let me try those last three sentences again: He's the one who says things that, while defensible, are out of the mainstream, and thus not conducive to the simplified reporting people have grown accostomed to. He's the one who has to rely less on traditional media and more on Internet-facilitated grassroots organizing, which, even in this increasingly digital age, probably puts him at something of a disadvantage. He's the one whose voice is being…well, not suppressed, really, but a little harder to find than it should be. Is that better?

Friday, September 9, 2011

Ron Paul, the Media, and Dangerous Opioids

As a libertarian with a wide range of opinions on both stuff and things, I suppose it's a little odd that I've never talked about Ron Paul here (a site search brings up only one reference, and it was very much in passing). I don't know why that is. My best guess is that I rarely find him objectionable enough to write about, but I have too many reservations to really get on board with his campaign. Also, his supporters have a reputation for being obsessive, Internet-savvy lunatics. I'm not sure this reputation is entirely undeserved. (Prove me wrong, lunatics!)

But screw it, those aren't good reasons, and so far his presidential candidacy has been way too interesting to ignore, so brace yourselves, because here comes a two-part series about Ron Paul. If it helps, part one is about drugs and part two is about sex, sort of. Both parts, in keeping with my commitment to timeliness and big picture analysis, are about a brief exchange from a debate that happened over four months ago:
Chris Wallace: Are you suggesting that heroin and prostitution are an exercise of liberty?
Ron Paul: Well, you know, I never used those words. You probably put those words someplace, but, yes, in essence if I leave it up to the states, it’s going to be up to the states. Up until this past century, you know, for over 100 years they were legal. What you’re inferring is, “You know what, if we legalize heroin tomorrow, everybody’s going to use heroin.” How many people here would use heroin if it was legal? I bet nobody would… “Oh yeah, I need the government to take care of me. I don’t want to use heroin, so I need these laws!”
Wallace threw prostitution into the mix just for fun, but it was heroin that caught a very small portion of the media's attention. Here are some of the points made over and over, all in the name of providing fair and accurate coverage of Paul's debate performance, by reporters and commentators in bizarro world:
  • He didn't say heroin should be legal, he said its legality should be decided by each state rather than the federal government. Which state do people think is eager to legalize heroin? Besides California, obviously.
  • He's not campaigning on this. There's nothing about heroin on his website, and, as far as I can tell, he's never mentioned it in any context other than answering a direct question.[1]
  • He's not necessarily wrong.[2]
In this universe, however, it was all "Ron Paul wants to legalize heroin!" and "that's enough of that, let's talk about Rick Perry now."

So what should Paul have done differently? He could've lied. He could've given the answer Romney, Bachmann, or Perry would give if they were asked a question like this (which, it should be noted, has never happened). Oh, no, of course heroin shouldn't be legal. It's dangerous. But he won't say that because it's not what he believes. Just as importantly, everyone who understands libertarianism knows it's not what he believes.

That's the thing about having an ideology—there aren't going to be any major surprises. I could come up with a question none of the Republican candidates have ever weighed in on—like, say, whether the FCC should regulate the obstacles on Wipeout,[3] which have very gradually evolved from "looks fun, I'd go on that show" to "holy shit, they're actually trying to break her neck!"—and with most of them, I have no idea how they'd answer. Would one of the frontrunners defend the rights of business owners without really sounding sincere about it? Or throw around terms like "wholesome" and "values" in a muddled critique of reality TV? Or somehow turn it into a question about job creation? I have my guesses, but the point is, until the question is asked and answered, I don't know. I already know Ron Paul's answer, because I know how his ideology works. And if he said something he didn't really believe, I'd be able to tell. How is that a bad thing?

And yet, as Chris Wallace made abundantly clear in that debate, it totally is. You're just asking to be confronted by the extremes of your ideology. It doesn't matter that those extremes are such a low priority as to be politically irrelevant, and it definitely doesn't matter that your views aren't indefensible, you're still forced to choose between alienating your most devoted supporters or repelling the rest of the voting public. Mitt Romney never has to make that choice, because he has no ideology.

One of the criticisms I've made of Ron Paul is that he doesn't do a great job of making libertarianism sound reasonable to non-libertarians, and I still think he could do better,[4] but it's becoming increasingly clear that there's a lot more going on, and not all of it is within his control.

1. As far as I can tell, the "Ron Paul wants to legalize heroin" thing first became a medium-size deal in 2007, when John Stossel interviewed Paul for 20/20. The interview was made available online, but never aired on television. The reason for this, depending on who you ask, is either that Paul had a sizeable Internet following at the time but was relatively unknown otherwise, or that The Man doesn't want you to hear what Ron Paul has to say. Because when The Man wants something suppressed, he puts it on the Internet where anyone can see it at any time, including right now, almost four years later, and from probably unauthorized sources, since The Man apparently can't be bothered to enforce his rights under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.
2. I'm getting a headache just thinking about what this footnote would turn into if I tried to be thorough, so I'm going to limit it to two over-simplified points. First, consider marijuana, which should be legal for more reasons than I can keep track of. The only arguments for legalizing pot that don't translate over to heroin are those having to do with pot being relatively harmless compared to other drugs. So, if we can agree that marijuana legalization makes sense (and we're getting close), then the heroin debate should be about how much it matters that heroin is more addictive and more dangerous. It does matter, obviously, but enough to overcome everything else?
    Second, I'd just like to point out that there has been approximately one (1) time in American history that the federal government claimed a broad new power, only to have that power rescinded by popular demand after everyone collectively realized they had made a huge mistake. It involved prohibition of a drug. Meanwhile, there have been approximately zero (0) times in American history that the federal government prohibited a drug, and then all the problems associated with it went away. So how about we stop acting like it's insane to suggest that drug prohibition doesn't work?
3. I'm pretty sure the FCC doesn't have that power, but it's more than a little distressing that I can't say so with more confidence. If nothing else, it's not clear to me how the Big Balls pass the "serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value" test.
4. You know who's better than Ron Paul at making libertarianism sound reasonable? Gary Johnson.