Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Senator Gravel joins Libertarian Party

Technically speaking Mike Gravel is still running for president as a Democrat though everyone knows he won't be nominated. Yesterday Senator Gravel announced he was joining the Libertarian Party. He said:

I'm joining the Libertarian Party because it is a party that combines a commitment to freedom and peace that can't be found in the two major parties that control the government and politics of America," says Gravel. "My libertarian views, as well as my strong stance against war, the military industrial complex and American imperialism, seem not to be tolerated by Democratic Party elites who are out of touch with the average American; elites that reject the empowerment of American citizens I offered to the Democratic Party at the beginning of this presidential campaign with the National Initiative for Democracy.

Senator Gravel, however, has not just joined the LP. He has announced he wants to be the Libertarian candidate for president. I quote the Senator's press release:

The fact is, the Democratic Party today is no longer the party of FDR. It is a party that continues to sustain war, the military-industrial complex and imperialism — all of which I find anathema to my views.

By and large, I have been repeatedly marginalized in both national debates and in media exposure by the Democratic leadership, which works in tandem with the corporate interests that control what we read and hear in the media.

I look forward to advancing my presidential candidacy within the Libertarian Party, which is considerably closer to my values, my foreign policy views and my domestic views.

What would qualify someone as a good candidate for the Democrats is a different matter than what would make him a good Libertarian candidate. Gravel is unlibertarian on some issues and depending on which issues that may mean he is unacceptable. So let's look at his views

I still stand by the view that the LP is not in a position to win elections given the way the system is rigged against them. But it is in a good position to push the case for liberty. If the party can't be a vehicle for getting elected then it could be one for education. But to do that it has to take a pretty consistent stand. Admittedly some issues are more important than others. Gravel is good on Iraq and good on the war on drugs. The presidential candidate is the main voice for libertarian ideas for the LP. This is the reason I've been despondent about the quality of LP candidates up until Mary Ruwart entered the race.

Here is a run down on some of the issues Gravel has campaigned on.

He is a proponent of something he calls the National Initiative for Democracy which promotes direct democracy such as initiatives. If such measures allowed voters to veto legislation they would be useful. If they allow voters to pass legislation they would encourage assaults against the rights and wealth of minorities by majorities. Witness how the Right used such measures to stip gay couples of equal standing before the law. Direct democracy is not a panacea and historically has been used to expand state power. A very bad idea but not a deal breaker.

Gravel "believes that global climate change is a matter of national security and survivability of the planet." This sort of scaremongering might be necessary in the Democratic Party but it over the line for the LP. If someone argued that it was a problem I'd probably ignore it. If they turn it into issues of "national security" and argue it will kill the planet I think that is just extreme fear mongering.

In matters of taxes Gravel wants to abolish the IRS and income tax and replace it with a sales tax. A sales tax to replace the income tax might be alright but the level of taxation would be very high. Any tax reform has to be accompanied with spending cuts. Gravel realizes that this proposal is very regressive and hits poorer people the hardest so he wants the government to give out rebates on the taxes paid for food, lodging, transportation and clothes. This rebate would come in the form of a monthly check from Washington. This is a really bad idea. It acclimates all Americans to the idea that D.C. is the place to get financial support. Surely it would be less cumbersome to simply exempt these items from the tax in the first place. Nothing is so daft as sending lots of money to Washington so they can process it and then send it back. This is like a blood transfusion from the left arm to the right arm while letting the doctor keep 50 percent.

Gravel "advocates a universal healthcare system." He wants to pay for it from the sales tax. If you think the sales tax would be huge just to cover current expenditures it would be much larger to cover this program. What I find ludicrous is that Gravel says "Citizens would pay nothing for health benefits." What exactly does he call the taxes he would impose? That is paying for the "benefits". There is no such thing as free health care. For me this issue is one of the litmus issues. It is not just a bad idea but a deal breaker.

On abortion Gravel is alright. He certainly is better than Ron Paul on such matters. But when it comes to free trade Gravel is not so good. He refers tot he "the concept of 'free trade'". Yes, he puts free trade in scare quotes. He says that the free trade agreement "has been a disaster for the working class of both the U.S. and Mexico". He quotes a left-wing group claiming it has destroyed 1 million U.S. jobs and 1.3 million jobs in Mexico. Apparently Senator Gravel believes that the amount of trade increases substantially but everyone lost jobs in the process. It is not true. He then blames free trade for "the wave of immigrants looking for work in the U.S." He is not bad on immigration per se but his grasp of the economics of free trade is very weak. This is another one of those deal breaker issues.

Senator Gravel supports marriage equality for gay couples and is against Bob Barr's Defense of Marriage Act. Here Gravel is pretty good. I don't agree with his desire to expand hate-crime legislation but don't see it as a deal breaker. He wants to repeal Bill Clinton's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy in the military. This is a good position.

Regarding social security Gravel wants to reform the system so that funds are invested and identify specific amounts to individuals and allow them to "leave surplus funds to heirs". This is a good reform for a bad system. It could be better but it is a step in the right direction.

In education Gravel wants to add "universal pre-kindergarten" to the system. Handing over kids to the education bureaucracy for more years is no solution -- it is the problem. Gravel says he wants more flexibility in the education system but none of the measures he lists increases choice for parents. He doesn't challenge the educational monopoly at all. He is very weak on this issue.

In a nutshell Gravel is excellent on the war, abortion, gay equality and the war on drugs. He should be applauded in particular for that last issue. Very few candidates are brave enough to speak out on this matter. In truth no other presidential candidate did. Even St. Paul has backtracked saying that he wants state regulation not federal regulation and that he was "misinterpreted" in the past when he actually did support legalization.

I'll even give Gravel good marks for his social security reform. His proposals would be a big improvement even if they don't go far enough.

On the issues of direct democracy and tax reform Gravel proposes reforms that would create new problems. The direct democracy initiative is very dangerous to individual rights. His tax reforms replace one mess with another one and are not an improvement. His scare mongering on climate plays into the far Lef't's calls for state central planning. And his education positions don't improve anything. Increasing the amount of time kids have to suffer under the education monopoly is actually a step backwards. These are all matters where Gravel is bad but not necessarily worse than the status quo or not worse by a significant amount.

But there are two issues where Gravel is horrendous. His positions on free trade and socialized health care are bloody awful. His positions would mark a major assault on individual freedom and are deal breakers. I would welcome Senator Gravel as a party member but this sort of statist position should disqualify him from being a candidate. What worries me is that the Libertarian Party has a large number of individuals who are whoring after office and are willing to take any statist proposal on board if they think it will give them the baubles of office. And they are willing to overlook horrendous positions by individuals in order to do so.

That strategy is doomed. First, they won't win office by becoming political whores. Second, all they will do is undermine the ability of the party to spread libertarian ideas. In other words they would destroy the one justification for the party without gaining anything in return. And that is really stupid.

Senator Gravel would be a vast improvement for the Democratic Party especially over the current front runners. But as a Libertarian candidate he would be a step backwards.

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