A Study in Cognitive Dissonance   14 comments

This is my series looking at the Democratic candidates from a libertarian perspective. There are 23 declared candidates. I’m working off the following list of 13 because they have qualified for the debates later in June. I’m looking at them from lowest rating to highest.

So, unlike a lot of people, I don’t object to Robert O’Rourke having a Hispanic nickname. Maybe someone Hispanic laid that on him. I’ve got a “sign name” given to me by Deaf people so I have a right (under the rules of their subculture) to use it and I’ve even run across people from other parts of the country who knew of me when they saw the sign name. “You’re Seattle Brian’s cousin, aren’t you?”

Unlike Elizabeth Warren, who profited greatly by pretending to be something she’s not (an American Indian), Beto isn’t pretending to be Hispanic – although I’m sure some people figure he’s closer to being Hispanic than Ted Cruz, whose father speaks with a decided accent. We can move on from the snark-fest I’m not going to participate in.

Like all the candidates for the Democratic nomination for 2020, O’Rourke has policy statements. I don’t agree with all of them. Most libertarians I know say they like some of what he says and dislike some of what he says, which puts him ahead of many of his opponents, who we like none of what they say.

O’Rourke’s policy positions are a study in paradoxes and the contradictions that sometimes get painful.


1) Beto wants to decriminalize drugs and jail pharma executives

I live in Alaska, where cannabis was decriminalized three years ago, but has been defacto “legal” for four decades, so I don’t really care about legalization. O’Rourke has, for more than a decade, advocated for the end of the federal marijuana prohibition and the removal of pot arrests from criminal records, as part of a broader criminal justice reform. Okay, I could vote for that, mainly for the reform that includes drug convictions rather than the drugs themselves. Moreover, he has called from decoupling cops from the opioid crisis. Yeah, I agree. I’m in favor of decoupling cops from the vast majority of crimes because I don’t think they really help, but that’s another topic.

But then, O’Rourke slams companies like Purdue Pharma for selling opioids to prescribers and he wants to put them in jail. Consider this paragraph.

We need to end the prohibition of marijuana. Expunge arrest records for everyone arrested for possession of something that’s legal in so many other places. And make sure that we have full prosecution and accountability for those who are responsible for the deaths of tens of thousands of Americans.

The cognitive dissonance in that single paragraph could drown a Labrador retriever. Drug dealer are drug dealers. Whether you do it through the prescription pad or you do it from a back alley apartment, you are still a drug dealer and peddling death to willing consumers. Could we please try for some consistency here? Someone else’s recreational drug of choice is either none of our business or it is? You can’t have it both ways.

2) Free trade, but not for Chinese dumpers!

O’Rourke actually has a long (rhetorical) history of backing free trade. My father-in-law is more familiar with him than I am (he lives in Texas) and he says O’Rourke wouldn’t have been able to win elections in conservative Texas if he’d bashed free trade. But I’m going to give him the benefit of the doubt and not question his sincerity on this issue. Again, the inconsistencies are striking.

“This trade war that the president has entered us into with China, these tariffs that he’s levied, and reciprocal tariffs that have been levied in return, hurt our ability to export into foreign markets, hurt our farmers and ranchers and producers, hurt the people who make things in this country that are opened to other markets around the world. It’s hurting our economy and hurting our families.”

Sounds good, but in that same speech, given at Keene State University in New Hampshire, O’Rourke started talking about the need “to take on China, the manipulation of their currency, the manipulation of trade practices that allows them to dump steel and compete unfairly on a global stage.”

Anti-Chinese dumping provisions already exist, even though they arguably shouldn’t. So where is the consistency? Sigh.

I get flip-flopping from one policy statement to another from one crowd to another — it’s disingenuous, but totally what politicians do. I can accept a change of position from one decade to another, because I believe people can grow and become wiser as they age. But flip-flopping within the same speech? Is this a performance of The Whore of Mensa?

3) Debt = bad. Domestic spending = good.

O’Rourke certainly sounds as deficit hawkish as Paul Ryan at times. I agree with many of his previous criticisms about the size of federal deficits and debt and he’s right to denounce overseas wars, occupations, and nation-building:

[W]e are $22 trillion in debt, and deficit spending to the tune of one trillion dollars annually added to that. That was approved in wars that we’ve been fighting going back to 1991, in the first invasion of Iraq. Six successive presidential administrations, we are still there. Afghanistan, Syria, Somalia, Yemen. Those wars cost money. Those countries we rebuild after we’ve invaded cost money. Actually trillions of dollars.

Then, in another of his incredible inconsistencies, he blames the size of the deficits and debt on tax cuts, while touting a Medicare expansion program that in his own words would be “measured in the trillions of dollars.”

Pick a side, Mr. Would-Be President! Pick a side! Either you’re for reducing the cost of government or you aren’t, and the math for “taxing the rich” just doesn’t work out. The annual income of America’s “rich people” couldn’t cover current deficits year-over-year, even if you taxed them at 100%. Jeff Bezos is not a magic money tree.

4) Humility versus narcissistic alarmism.

O’Rourke will, on one hand, seem to upbeat and positively respectful when talking about “everybody” and then turn around and call this election our “defining moment of truth.” He’ll beseech Americans to recognize the limits of their own knowledge and power:

“There are probably a lot of people who are a lot smarter on this issue than I am,” he said at Keene State in response to a pointed question about the Israeli-Palestinian situation. Also: “Now listen, we have to have the humility to understand we cannot impose a solution on any people, anywhere. See: 18 years and counting in Afghanistan, 27 years and counting in Iraq. Plenty of other examples. This is something that the Palestinian people and the Israeli people must decide for themselves. But given our role and our support for both sides, the aid that we provide, we have a seat at that table.”

Bully for Beto recognizing that America and the politicians who rule us are neither omniscient nor omnipotent! But then, he says this:

The civil war in Syria, the wildfires in California—we literally are making it happen. And unless we act in the next 12 years, which the scientists also agree within which we still have time, there will be a hell visited upon our kids and grandkids and the generations that follow….If you were worried about 400,000 apprehensions at our southern border with Mexico last year, wait until some of the countries in the Western Hemisphere are no longer inhabitable by human beings. The refugee crisis then, here and all over the world, is beyond our imagination right now. But we still have time to act.

Good grief! So we can’t tell other countries how to act, but we can damn sure oppress our own people or flood the country with populations of people who will overwhelm the people who already live here because “we must act NOW”. It’s like a game of philosophical Twister. O’Rourke sees no contradiction there.

“I think we can bridge these differences, define ourselves not by what divides us, by what we want to accomplish together.”

I appreciate his energy and I appreciate that he has some libertarian-seeming policy proposals, but the drumbeat of the apocalypse seems just beneath his surface smile. I suspect that once in office, the nice-guy face will drop away and he’ll reveal the face of a tyrant intent upon making his truth THE truth. And those contradictory statements? Which ones does he actually believe? Maybe that doesn’t matter so much as to realize that once in office, most candidates will act on their totalitarianism far more quickly and ruthlessly than they will act on their restraint. And, candidates who make statements that suggest they would force the American people to do things they might not want to do — well, welcome to totalitarianism.

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