The Rush Limbaugh Style In Libertarian Politics

Responding to Constant.

I was born and currently live in the South; my father speaks with a Southern accent. Some of my Yankee friends sometimes say I have a small hint of a Southern accent. Does that make me a self-hating Southerner?

Constant is absolutely right about the disagreement being conceptual and not only terminological. And it's precisely the concepts of "law-abiding" and "hard-working" that I'm criticizing.

I'm not claiming that avoiding using these concepts would be costless for the users; I'm claiming that avoiding using these concepts would be net beneficial for liberty, even while we ignore the racial angle.

When conservatives and libertarians advocate for smaller government, lower taxes and less welfare, there are lots of different ways they can structure their message. One way, which is especially popular among conservatives and unfortunately has spread to libertarian circles through talk-radio political shock-jocks and other more populist, less intellectual, less academic venues, is to create a picture of a world in which there is a group of hard-working, law-abiding, tax-paying, non-welfare using people - these people are generally the targeted audience of the speaker; you are made to feel as if you are part of this group. Then, in contrast, there is a group of lazy, criminal, tax-immune, welfare abusers - these people are considered the "other", to be derided, hated, treated with ridicule, contempt, and disgust. Neal Boortz and Rush Limbaugh are both experts at playing this game.

Even if we divorce the racial implications from this approach, the approach is still inimical to liberty. It turns the focus of the listener to look at the poor as the enemy, when the real enemy is the state and its enablers, very few of whom are actually poor - poor people don't tend to vote much or have much political power, nor do they actually benefit from all the government programs created allegedly for their benefit. It is factually, empirically, and sociologically untrue - poor people are not generally lazy or evil. And it tends to cripple the emotional capabilities of those who buy in to it - they no longer see the poor as worthy of sympathy, they are more likely to associate wealth with virtue and therefore apologize for corporatism, they treat those who are able to accrue wealth in business through government favoritism as Randian heroes, they end up looking exactly like the caricature that leftists make conservatives out to be.

None of this is desirable for promoting liberty, so even if we entirely ignore the racial angle, eliminating this conceptual strategy is itself a good thing for liberty, not a cost.

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Hard Working Politicians

Intellectual pretensions aside, name calling is political speeche's most effective weapon. Usually there is a grain of truth in it which comes out when the target reacts with predictable outrage, confirming that the name caller was at least partially on target. The Trick is to make it elliptical enough so when the other guy screams about it,you know it is really true. For example, why did the Democrats howl so much when Bush said the A word when recently visiting Israel. Did Democrats hear their name called when the subject of appeasement came up? Is appeaser a code word for Democrat?

Ok now I’m Going to try to put in one of them links. I hope it works. Link.

Dave

Link fixed. Here's what you want to do:
1. Write the text you want to appear as a link (in the link above, it's the word "Link".
2. Click the link button.
3. Paste the URL into the "Link href" box.
4. Ignore the "Link title" box. That's the text that gets displayed in the little box that appears when you let the mouse cursor hover briefly over the link--you usually don't need it. For illustrative purposes, I set the title on the link above to "Link title".

--Brandon

Brief reply

1) Surely you don't think that the only likely use of the concepts of crime and of hard work is the specific use that you outline.

2) Getting back to my original topic: left wingers love to talk about "resistance". Okay then. My purpose here has been to resist the attempts of the left wing to render whole swaths of potential arguments off-limits by smearing them through association. This point holds regardless of whether an argument is effective when considered apart from left wing smears.

1) It is the most common use

1) It is the most common use of the concepts that comes to my mind when I think of conservative political rhetoric. When leftists use terms like "hard-working", they are often using it to distinguish their audience from the independently wealthy, who live off successful investments and thus "don't have to work very hard."

2) But the question of who is doing the conceptual smearing by association is precisely what's at issue here. The left is accusing the right of using code-words like law-abiding and hard-working and associating these virtues with their white Southern audience, whereas the right is accusing the left of associating perfectly legitimate and unoffensive concepts with racism. But so far, to my knowledge, neither side here on DR has given much evidence that the other side is doing what they are accused of doing.

No, it's not at issue

But the question of who is doing the conceptual smearing by association is precisely what's at issue here.

Hillary Clinton's speech was attacked from the left by associating it with racism. She's actually a leftist herself, though because of Obama a lot of the left has aligned against her, and is predictably reaching into their usual bag of tricks. What conservatives did or did not do twenty or thirty years ago does not negate this.

It's easy to see why the tactic is tempting. "He said X. X is code for Y. Y is a terrible thing to say. He sucks!"

Yeah, I know, the direct association of Clinton with racism fails readily. The backup plan is to say that if Clinton is not intimately familiar with the library of prohibited speech which the left has been obsessively compiling for decades but which normal people and even Micha are unfamiliar with, therefore she sucks.

She's actually a leftist

She's actually a leftist herself, though because of Obama a lot of the left has aligned against her, and is predictably reaching into their usual bag of tricks.

A more charitable explanation is that Hillary did in fact, intentionally or unintentionally, commit a rhetorical no-no, and some on the left are calling her on it, even if she is on the same team as her accusers. That's a point in their favor, not against them.

What conservatives did or did not do twenty or thirty years ago does not negate this.

Except what conservatives did or did not do twenty or thirty years ago is indeed relevant if Hillary's critics are correct and she did engage in a bit of Southern strategy race baiting.

It's not that I'm unfamiliar with the Southern strategy. If I was unfamiliar with it, I wouldn't be as open as I am to hearing arguments that this is in fact what Hillary appealed to.

Let me ask you Constant; apart from this specific modern case, do you reject the notion that a Southern strategy every took place, and that certain terms of political rhetoric such as states' rights, busing, and law & order were in fact wink-and-nod code words for racism? Because if you deny that, there is no point in arguing over the less overt modern incarnations.

Bullet point answer

Let me ask you Constant; apart from this specific modern case, do you reject the notion that a Southern strategy every took place, and that certain terms of political rhetoric such as states' rights, busing, and law & order were in fact wink-and-nod code words for racism? Because if you deny that, there is no point in arguing over the less overt modern incarnations.

1) I don't know. It seems likely that racists would be concerned about states' rights and about busing, but that's all I can say.

2) I reject the notion that since racists were (presumably) against busing between school districts, therefore a person mustn't speak loudly and clearly against busing. It's a legitimate issue.

3) Similarly for states' rights. Another legitimate issue, at least in the context of American politics.

4) Similarly for law and order.

5) Racists can take positions on legitimate issues too. The point that some opposition to busing was racist in motivation is a point about motivation. You tell me: was "busing" really a code word and nothing but a code word, even in the mouths of racists? Or were racists who publicly opposed busing, in actual fact opposed to busing? Yes, opposed to busing for racist reasons, but still, opposed to busing. But if racists were (albeit for racist reasons) in fact opposing busing when they publicly opposed busing, then to a large extent their speech was not code at all, but literally meant what it said.

"the Other"

Are you channeling Ed Said from beyond the grave?

Based on?

It is factually, empirically, and sociologically untrue - poor people are not generally lazy or evil.

Throw out the evil part. On what do you make the emphatic conclusion that poor people are not generally lazy?

But it doesn't even matter

In fact it is precisely the working poor who may be the most receptive to messages concerning hard work and criminality. It is the working poor who are the most vulnerable to criminals. It is the working poor who work the hardest for each dollar.

From personal experience. My

From personal experience. My family is poor. Neither of my parents graduated from college. They have worked an endless series of odd-jobs since before I was born. They struggle to make rent every month. Yet they are not lazy. They have made some bad choices, as all people have, but they are no less intelligent or less motivated than more successful acquaintances.

That itself is the most obvious evidence for me. But for those who don't have personal relationships with poor people, there are sociological studies that highlight the same thing.

People are poor for all sorts of reasons. Yes, some are poor because they are stupid, some are poor because they are lazy. Some are poor because of substance abuse, some are poor because of health problems, some are poor because of bad luck. Some are poor because they lack education, opportunity, or are tied down geographically. Some are poor because poverty can be self-reinforcing, by altering time preferences, for example. Whatever the reason, it is just plain false, not to mention rude, to try to boil every cause down to a single, uncomplimentary factor.

We all have personal experiences

You have given an anecdote, one data point. Your statement was "It is factually, empirically, and sociologically untrue - poor people are not generally lazy or evil" yet I see nothing other than one experience; nothing empirical or sociological. (Talkin' about "lazy" not "evil".) I also would not discount the similar experiences of others in shaping their opinions on why some people are poor, even when they are 180 degrees from yours.

Whatever the reason, it is just plain false, not to mention rude, to try to boil every cause down to a single, uncomplimentary factor.

It sounded like you did exactly that in your post when you wrote:

It turns the focus of the listener to look at the poor as the enemy, when the real enemy is the state and its enablers, very few of whom are actually poor - poor people don't tend to vote much or have much political power, nor do they actually benefit from all the government programs created allegedly for their benefit.

If you are instead saying that poverty (in this relative sense; I consider very few people in the US poor in an absolute sense) is multifactorial (based on your last paragraph of the comment to which I'm responding) and among those factors, behavioral factors play a role, then we probably agree, and you probably agree with most conservatives.

You have given an anecdote,

You have given an anecdote, one data point.

Well, for what it's worth, it's not my only anecdotal data point. I also know a lot of poor people, and while some are poor because they are lazy, many are not.

Your statement was "It is factually, empirically, and sociologically untrue - poor people are not generally lazy or evil" yet I see nothing other than one experience; nothing empirical or sociological.

I suppose, if you want, I'll try to dig up some of the many sociological studies that deal with this issue.

I also would not discount the similar experiences of others in shaping their opinions on why some people are poor, even when they are 180 degrees from yours.

But my observation of the existence of many non-lazy poor people falsifies their conclusion that all (or most) poor people are poor because they are lazy; their observation of the existence of lazy poor people does not falsify my conclusion that not all poor people are poor because they are lazy.

I suppose, if you want, I'll

I suppose, if you want, I'll try to dig up some of the many sociological studies that deal with this issue.

Sure, I'd be interested.

But my observation of the existence of many non-lazy poor people falsifies their conclusion that all (or most) poor people are poor because they are lazy; their observation of the existence of lazy poor people does not falsify my conclusion that not all poor people are poor because they are lazy.

We're getting caught up in rhetorical arguments centered around words like "generally" "all" "most" etc. If instead, I can summarize your argument, it would be:

"Conservatives are wrong to think that all/most poor people are lazy."

My argument would be:

"Leftists are wrong to think that poor people are completely/mostly victims."

These arguments overlap enough for there to be common agreement between them. Both can be right at the same time. Each can have anecdotes supporting them.

The question then becomes, "Is the use of terms like 'hard-working' and 'law abiding' code for 'All/most poor people are lazy'?"

I don't think so. In a mixed economy like ours, there's enough of a correlation between wealth and virtue, and between poverty and poor behavioral choices, that the default interpretation of those terms should be 'one who works hard' and 'one of abides by the law'. In fact, it's vital to do so, and any society that doesn't do so doesn't value liberty.

And it tends to cripple the

And it tends to cripple the emotional capabilities of those who buy in to it - they no longer see the poor as worthy of sympathy, they are more likely to associate wealth with virtue and therefore apologize for corporatism, they treat those who are able to accrue wealth in business through government favoritism as Randian heroes, they end up looking exactly like the caricature that leftists make conservatives out to be.

I disagree about the cause of this. I suspect that it's usually a backlash against left-wing propaganda. There is a correlation between wealth and virtue. It's not a perfect correlation, but real-world correlations rarely are. In a market system--even an imperfect one--hard work and thrift generally pay off.

When leftists go around self-righteously bashing capitalism and the profit motive, labeling tax cuts as "giveaways to the rich," and insisting that the poor are in all ways blameless for their lot in life, the natural inclination is to focus on the fact that they are, as a rule of thumb, dead wrong, to the exclusion of acknowledging exceptions to this rule.

I'm not saying this is an ideal response--just offering an alternative explanation.

There is a correlation

There is a correlation between wealth and virtue. It's not a perfect correlation, but real-world correlations rarely are. In a market system--even an imperfect one--hard work and thrift generally pay off.

One factor that throws a huge wrench into this is that the presence of wealth doesn't indicate how that wealth came to be in the wealthy person's possession. Was the wealth earned? Or was the wealth inherited? And if the wealth was earned by the current possessor, was it earned legitimately? The wealthy third-world dictator might have many talents that allowed him to expropriate wealth from others, but we don't usually view these sorts of talents as virtues.

When leftists go around self-righteously bashing capitalism and the profit motive, labeling tax cuts as "giveaways to the rich," and insisting that the poor are in all ways blameless for their lot in life, the natural inclination is to focus on the fact that they are, as a rule of thumb, dead wrong, to the exclusion of acknowledging exceptions to this rule.

True, and I'm saying that, as libertarians, that's precisely the wrong response to take. Even if the poor are blameless for their lot, that still doesn't entitle them to other people's stuff. One can (and should!) feel sympathy for the poor without having to resort to coercive redistribution as a solution. That's exactly what gives people the impression that if you care about poverty, you must support welfare statism, and if you don't support welfare statism, you therefore don't care about poverty. Neither of these conditionals are valid, yet libertarians and conservatives feed into them by criticizing the poor and praising the rich.

One factor that throws a

One factor that throws a huge wrench into this is that the presence of wealth doesn't indicate how that wealth came to be in the wealthy person's possession. Was the wealth earned? Or was the wealth inherited? And if the wealth was earned by the current possessor, was it earned legitimately? The wealthy third-world dictator might have many talents that allowed him to expropriate wealth from others, but we don't usually view these sorts of talents as virtues

People who inherit wealth are probably on average more virtuous (better education, less incentive therefore less temptation to commit crime). There's merely a magnifier effect on those who idly dilapidate fortunes but that's it. Many people who got wealthy illegitimately might also be otherwise virtuous (an engineer holding a patent for example).

Insofar as wealth can be

Insofar as wealth can be used to purchase virtue, sure, although I'm not sure how comfortable we are in going in that direction. Regardless, in the cases you outlined, its not the virtue that is the cause or source of the wealth, but the other way around.

law-abiding and hard-working

And it's precisely the concepts of "law-abiding" and "hard-working" that I'm criticizing.

I'm not claiming that avoiding using these concepts would be costless for the users; I'm claiming that avoiding using these concepts would be net beneficial for liberty,

These concepts are absolutely central to any defense of liberty, and denying or rejecting these concepts is central to every major attack on liberty - gun grabbers deny the concept of law abiding, the advocates of the regulatory and redistributionist state deny the concept of hard working.

I deny the concept of law

I deny the concept of law abiding. None of us are law abiding. We all do (or at least should, to the extent we can get away with it) cheat on our taxes. We all do (or at least should) consume illegal mind-altering substances.

Each and every one of us is a law breaker, not a law abider - some of us are law breakers each and every day, and damn proud of it.

Libertarians of all people should know the veneration of following the law as it currently exists is not necessarily a good thing.

the advocates of the regulatory and redistributionist state deny the concept of hard working.

No, they don't deny the concept. They constantly use this concept in their political rhetoric: i.e. they oppose tax breaks for the rich, at the expense of hardworking Americans, their target audience (generally the middle to lower-middle class). With the implication that the wealthy don't work hard too.

Hard work is a political red-herring, distracting us from more important issues like coercion and the economic consequences of tax and welfare policy.

two elements

There is a difference between the "working poor" and the "underclass" (pace Andrew Neil). The second group are lazy and expect the rest of us to support them. The left does not like this distinction and lumps the two together.

Wendy McElroy is a racist! Not.

She writes:

Murray N. Rothbard (1926-1995) -- the greatest libertarian theorist of the 20th century -- expressed what he considered to be the central political issue confronting mankind. He wrote, "My own basic perspective on the history of man...is to place central importance on the great conflict which is eternally waged between Liberty and Power." Liberty v. Power. In its most blatant form, the struggle manifests itself as war between the peaceful, productive individual and the intrusive State that usurps those products. The tension between freedom and authority is hardly a new subject for political commentary. But Rothbard managed to bring a newness to everything he touched intellectually.

The peaceful individual? Do I hear correctly? Peaceful in what sense? I usually take this as a synonym for non-criminal. The individual does not aggress against other individuals.

The productive individual? Dare we say hard-working?

Is Wendy McElroy a Limbaugh stylist?

I usually take this as a

I usually take this as a synonym for non-criminal.

Then you are usually, and most emphatically, wrong. Peaceful is not a synonym for non-criminal. Many criminals are peaceful (consider non-violent drug crimes). Many non-criminals are not peaceful (consider government agents, or the statist law itself).

The productive individual? Dare we say hard-working?

Again, not the same thing. One need not work hard to be productive. The supermodel, who need only work a few hours each week, can be plenty productive. Lots of people find their jobs easy, light, and pleasent, and yet perform whatever task they do efficiently and productively. So too, many people work very hard and yet are not productive. The entrepreneur who labors day and night, only to have the business become a complete and total failure, has not been especially productive.

Hard work does not guarantee producing something of value to society. And productivity need not require hard work.

Hum no

Then you are usually, and most emphatically, wrong. Peaceful is not a synonym for non-criminal. Many criminals are peaceful (consider non-violent drug crimes). Many non-criminals are not peaceful (consider government agents, or the statist law itself).

Hum no, you are wrong in assuming that 'criminal' is defined by positive law.

But that is how the term is used

But that is how the term is used in the political rhetoric we are discussing. Non-violent drug offenders are not "law-abiding" in the political rhetoric sense used in stump speeches; they are criminals. Whereas tax collectors and border police are law-abiding and law-enforcing, even though the laws they are enforcing are morally criminal.

As I said upthread regarding he concept "hard-working," so too "law-abiding" is a political red-herring, distracting us from more important issues like coercion and the economic consequences of tax and welfare policy - i.e. what the law should be.

Careful what you say

But that is how the term is used in the political rhetoric we are discussing.

But you had written that I was most emphatically wrong. What you should, instead, have written, was that I was most emphatically right, but that the political rhetoric under discussion is most emphatically wrong. And since libertarians are who you're targeting, what you need to say is this:

Libertarians are wrong to classify nonviolent drug use as a crime

.

At least, that's what you ought to say to be consistent with the current point you're raising about the meaning of "criminal" in political rhetoric.

But could you list the libertarians who consider nonviolent drug use to be a crime? You can't be talking about a whole lot of them.

No, Constant, just because

No, Constant, just because some libertarians may mistakenly and unknowingly borrow from conservative rhetoric without recognizing the connotations implied by the language they use does not mean that these same libertarian speakers knowingly endorse the implications. That's exactly the point I'm making - that if libertarians recognized the political implications of this sort of rhetoric, they wouldn't be using it, because it is at odds with their overall message.

To boil it down

To boil it down, you seem to be saying that libertarians should not use the word "crime" when they mean the stuff that they consider crimes (e.g. excluding "victimless crimes").

This was not, however, your initial seeming argument, the one in your blog entry. You seemed to be making a fairly large point about not splitting people into groups, into "us" versus "them". Now it turns out you're making a hairsplitting point about the exact terminology used to split people apart into groups.

So I guess now your argument can't be attacked from the angle I was attempting. My basic intuition on this is that all concepts could potentially be used to divide people into us versus them, and so to attack concepts merely because they could be used that way is to attack the very use of concepts, and therefore to attack rationality itself.

But now it appears you're just splitting hairs about whether people should divide folks into breakers-of-positive-law and the rest. You actually don't mind the other potential divisions of people into us versus them.

Similarly with your argument about "hard work". You don't actually mind the rhetorical division of people into people who work (and pay taxes) and people who mooch off those taxes. What you think is occurring, and what you mind, is the rhetorical division of people into 9-to-5-ers and supermodels. I hadn't realized you were so concerned about the marginalization of supermodels.

To boil it down, you seem to

To boil it down, you seem to be saying that libertarians should not use the word "crime" when they mean the stuff that they consider crimes (e.g. excluding "victimless crimes").

Stop trying to come up with synonyms, stop trying to "boil it down" - we are dealing with very specific terms of political rhetoric here. Instead of trying to discern what I "seem to be saying," why don't you instead read what I am actually, explicitly saying.

This was not, however, your initial seeming argument, the one in your blog entry. You seemed to be making a fairly large point about not splitting people into groups, into "us" versus "them". Now it turns out you're making a hairsplitting point about the exact terminology used to split people apart into groups.

I was indeed making a fairly large point about not splitting people into groups, when this sort of splitting is needlessly done and in fact detrimental to libertarian goals. Obviously, by approving of some acts and disapproving of other acts, libertarians are going to be splitting up some people (Though notice how the focus should be turning to acts, not people.) But just as, for Marxists, splitting up labor is detrimental to socialist goals of political solidarity, so too for libertarians, excluding all peaceful law-breakers and everyone who isn't too rich or too poor to fit into the blue-collar category of hard-worker isn't a good strategy for achieving libertarian goals.

So making a "hairsplitting point about the exact terminology used to split people apart into groups" is kind of important when one kind of splitting is helpful and another kind is harmful.

Similarly with your argument about "hard work". You don't actually mind the rhetorical division of people into people who work (and pay taxes) and people who mooch off those taxes.

Well, no, I was just making a point that what Rothbard was saying is not the same as what you were saying. I still don't think splitting up people into moochers and producers is a smart way of thinking about or communicating libertarianism, for a variety of reasons, one of which is that it's kind of difficult to sort out who is who in a mixed economy. This is at least less bad a division than the hard-working/lazy division, but it still has its own problems.

What you were obviously saying, what you actually said

Stop trying to come up with synonyms, stop trying to "boil it down" - we are dealing with very specific terms of political rhetoric here. Instead of trying to discern what I "seem to be saying," why don't you instead read what I am actually, explicitly saying.

That's me being polite. It is actually impossible to respond non-interpretively without actually quoting what was written. Any response other than a direct quotation is interpretive and therefore, for the sake of politiness, might carry diminishing terms such as "seems to be", regardless of how close it hews to the original - to give the original author space to explain an clarify. In response to this politeness one does not expect the author to take advantage of it by misconstruing it as an admission that the other party was being loose in his interpretation.

My mistake then, I misread

My mistake then, I misread you.

Meanings

1) I hold that in the rhetoric, the most emotionally resonant meaning is precisely the meaning I have given to the terms and not the meaning you now insist on. "Hard working" is obviously nothing other than a highly complimentary way of referring to people who earn a good living honestly, that feeds into the image almost everyone has of himself as working hard. The sort of crime that people really care about has always been, and will always be, aggression against neighbors (property crime, assault, rape).

Especially libertarian rhetoric! Remember, your blog entry is bashing libertarians. It's right in your title.

2) I see nothing in your blog entry that requires otherwise. For example, in your blog entry you talk about "welfare abusers" as belonging to the other side of the hard working/not hard working divide.But in fact, they just as clearly belong to the other side of the productive/unproductive divide. Meanwhile I do not see any mention, in your blog entry, of people who have easy jobs (like supermodels) as belonging to the other side. So your own blog entry appears implicitly to be employing the meanings that I specify, not the meanings that you now specify.

So at this point it seems as though you have forgotten what it is you were arguing about.

This is your tangent, not

This is your tangent, not mine, Constant. You brought in the Rothbard quote, and I'm arguing that the terms Rothbard chose are specific and helpful to libertarian arguments in a way that the terms you tried to match them up with are not.

Especially libertarian rhetoric! Remember, your blog entry is bashing libertarians. It's right in your title.

Well, it's mainly conservative rhetoric that libertarians unknowingly borrowed, thinking that the enemy of my enemy is my friend. I'm not bashing libertarians per se, just warning them to avoid adopting Republican rhetoric as it's often inimical to liberty.

The sort of crime that people really care about has always been, and will always be, aggression against neighbors (property crime, assault, rape).

This is true. The problem is that the term "law-abiding" brings to mind in the listener both the libertarian concept of crime as aggression, and the legal concept of crime as whatever happens to be against the law. This is an anti-concept, a package-deal, and libertarians should avoid it.

So too with hard-working. Hard-working is, in a sense, even worse, because it's a package deal in both directions. Populists (both on the left and the right) use it not only to separate the listener from the lazy poor (with all the racial stereotypes that implies) but also to seperate the blue-collar listeners from the "wealthiest 1%", who presumably don't work as hard and don't deserve their money as much.

Actually...

This is your tangent, not mine, Constant. You brought in the Rothbard quote, and I'm arguing that the terms Rothbard chose are specific and helpful to libertarian arguments in a way that the terms you tried to match them up with are not.

Well, actually, the words Wendy McElroy wrote mean pretty much exactly what I understood of the rhetoric that you've been complaining about. I had assumed, all along, that you objected to the rhetoric in the sense expressed by McElroy, because it can be used to divide people into a virtuous us versus a wicked them.

I don't think your argument makes much sense any more once you exclude what she wrote from what you're talking about.