Monday, October 24, 2011

On Being a Libertarian Skeptic

With the presidential campaign season in full swing (for the republicans at least), I've been thinking a bit lately about politics and skepticism. Generally I call myself a Libertarian, but that's pretty much just a convenience so I don't have to identify with either of the dominant US political parties. I resist affiliation with either the democrats or the republicans so that I don’t have to accept or justify rejecting the very significant parts of each party’s platform with which I disagree.

My libertarianism is therefore shorthand for a somewhat common refrain - like many others, I consider myself  to be fairly conservative on fiscal issues but liberal on social issues. I agree with the Republican party on many economic issues, but part with them vehemently on things like gay rights, abortion and their antipathy to science. The democrats drive me crazy on fiscal and economic issues, but I'm with them on the social issues.

So there I am, in my libertarian middle ground, cherry picking candidates from the major parties to vote for (I don't actually vote Libertarian, but I would if they’d bring forward some sane candidates: Bob Barr? Really? Ron Paul? God help us!).

When I first happened on the skeptical community a few years ago, I quickly figured out that it was a community that leaned pretty hard to the left. That wasn't a surprise, but it made me hesitant to actively join the fray. One doesn't want to risk getting flamed by someone online for suggesting that, maybe, just maybe, everyone to the right of Dennis Kucinich isn't actually evil.

Luckily there are prominent skeptical voices out there who help make it safe for Libertarian skeptics like me to come in out of the cold and not feel quite so unwelcome. It was encouraging and refreshing to hear Michael Shermer on a skeptical podcast expressing his belief that the best way to deal with climate change is less government interference in the economy and more unleashing  of bright human minds.  And Penn Jillette’s libertarianism, based in a firm belief in the rights of the individual, is a very appealing philosophy.

So, yeah, it’s good to know that you can be libertarian and find acceptance in the skeptical community. I have a hard time imagining a true blue conservative who would feel very welcome, but I also have a hard time imagining a true blue conservative wanting to be accepted there.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Our "Nation of Believers" is on Display Again!

The headlines about Mitt Romney's Mormonism (Is Mormonism a cult? Are Mormons Christians? Will Evangelicals ever vote for a Mormon?) reminds me of why I wrote the song "Nation of Believers."  It's not the non-religious asking these questions - it's another round of believer-on-believer crime.  The circular firing squad is on display once again!

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Mitt Romney and the Republican Debates

It’s probably a sign of some deep-seated psychological problem, but I really love election seasons. I particularly enjoy the debate stage, when you get to see the oddest assortment of political bedfellows duking it out for a party’s nomination.  Since there’s not going to be a democratic debate-fest to enjoy, I’m getting a kick out of the GOP’s.  Most of these characters will ultimately recede back to the world of irrelevance from which they sprang, but its fun to see  them groping for their spot in the sunshine.

This year’s republican debates have been highly entertaining. The sudden rise and subsequent declines of Bachman, Perry and Paul; the constant struggle of the party to find someone - anyone!? - to run against Mitt Romney; the current, nearly inexplicable, boomlet around Herman Cain - all have been fascinating to watch.

Mostly I’ve been impressed with Romney. I certainly don’t agree with all that he espouses (I find his China-bashing to be a xenophobic embarrassment, for example), but he’s sure come a long way since the last time around, and, to my mind, he has come across as a grownup among children in these debates.

Last night was a perfect example. The debate organizers decided to dedicate one section of the debate to letting the candidates ask questions of each other.  Predictably, most of them tried to tee off on Romney, asking him questions designed to show his flip-flopping nature or his lack of conservative bona fides.  But he’s gotten so good at this game, all they did was give him a platform to speak forcefully about his positions. For nearly forty minutes the stage was pretty much Romney’s - in each case he quickly dismissed the insinuation of his rival’s question, then spoke confidently about his plans, proposals and/or visions. Again, agree with him or not, it was an impressive performance.

And when it was his turn?  He didn’t give the stage to Perry or Cain or anyone perceived to have a chance to unseat him as front-runner. He asked a positively-phrased question of Michelle Bachman, setting her up to lay out her conservative principals in a way that would appeal not to Romney’s backers, but to Perry’s. It was, I thought, quite a brilliant strategy.

It certainly seems likely that Romney will secure the Republican nomination, and that will bring a fascinating year of electioneering. Having been raised Mormon myself, I don’t have any qualms about Romney’s religion, but I’ve been surprised at opinions expressed by some of my acquaintances, who feel his Mormonism will be a crippling handicap for him. It will be interesting to see.