Amash

On Tuesday Justin Amash crushed opponent Brian Ellis in Michigan’s third district primary, and made sure to let the world know how awful the establishment Republicans had treated him throughout this nasty campaign.

Those on the right who have a problem with Amash’s victory speech are either not familiar with the level of rancid demogoguery deployed against Amash by the establishment, or they just have a problem with libertarians.

Scores of beltway conservatives, from Joe Scarbrough to Aaron Goldstein to staffers at Daily Caller and National Review knocked Amash for a lack of decorum and suggested that his enmity for cheap establishment tactics and smears would redound negatively for the larger cause of conservatism.

Nonsense.

Amash sent a message to the Republican establishment that you better think twice before going after constitutional conservatives. The grass roots and the voters at large are on to the rigged game the establishment wishes to perpetuate. No longer is the conservative movement going to be a party to insider dealing, crony relationships or big business corporate welfare; in other words, conservatives are done with the Chamber of Commerce.

This tendency has been admirably consistent among conservatives since the rise of the Tea Party in 2010. It hasn’t always translated into insurgent primary victories for the Tea Party, but when it has, the winners have gone on to become immediate leaders in the Republican Party (see: Rand Paul, Mike Lee, Ted Cruz, Thomas Massie, Marco Rubio). The revival of constitutionalism on the right is the most encouraging development in American politics since 1988. It is a visceral reaction to crony capitalism and big government “compassionate conservatism.” And it is not going away any time soon.

But neither is the opposition. The Amash case is illuminating. After coming to Congress as part of the 2010 Tea Party wave, Amash immediately asserted himself as a principled libertarian-conservative, forming the House Liberty Caucus and endeavoring to record his reasoning behind every vote on Facebook in order to provide true transparency for his constituents. He has never missed a vote.

After nearly causing a bipartisan political earthquake in 2013 in his staunch advocacy against any intervention in Syria, House Republican hawks committed fully to his defeat this year. John Boehner and his allies were already on record as believing Amash to be an “asshole” and had removed him and other like-minded liberty Republicans from their committee posts following the 2012 election, but his efforts to thwart the NSA as well as the administration’s plans in Syria caused Republicans like Mike Ridgers and Devin Nunes (he of the “Amash is al quada’s best friend in Congress” infamy) to raise the volume on getting Amash primaried.

Enter Brian Ellis, a businessman who claimed to care more about the bottom line than the Constitution when it comes to making policy, who quickly racked up endorsements from elite Republican entities from the Chamber to Michigan Right to Life (based on an erroneous and scurrilous charge that Amash is pro-choice) and other crony interests who purport to espouse conservative ideals. Despite having an ample warchest and no compunctions about lying and smearing Amash in a scorched-earth campaign, Ellis had his ass handed to him and may now crawl back under whatever special interest rock from which he was chiseled.

Ellis’ campaign ran ads accusing Amash of voting mroe often with Pelosi and Reid than with his party, suggested he didn’t care about the unborn, and used his votes in favor of closing Guantanamo and against Iron Dome as proof of his sympathies for jihad.

Never mind that all of these charges were lies, that every vote he takes is grounded in ardent principle and strict fiscal conservatism, or that as the only Arab-American Republican in Congress the ads piggy-backing on Nunes’ claim amounted to cold, calculating racism.

Amash put his faith in the intelligence and wisdom of Third District voters, knowing that an informed and engaged grass roots will always triumph over a removed, elite establishment charge mounted in D.C. He also understood that libertarian and constitutional conservatism are waxing not waning on the right, and that a clear and cogent message highlighting the dead end that is big business corporatism would carry the day.

So forgive me if I do not begrudge Amash one iota his taking a few exultant jabs at the very sources of this nasty and libelous campaign. Ross Kaminsky agrees. The right wing establishment needs to be called out and shamed every chance we get, or else they’re going to continue believing that the grass roots are mere puppets to pandered to every other November. I say more elected Republicans should deploy words like “disgrace” and “obscurity and irrelevance” and “you owe me and this community an apology” the way Amash did in his victory speech. We can have decorum when the ideological war within our own party is won.

UKIP

The United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) is having a moment. The libertarian-ish party was founded in the early ’90’s as a protest faction among the conservative Tories, its principal mission to get the UK out of the European Union (EU). Though England has three traditionally accepted, entrenched parties in Labour, Conservative and the Liberal Democrats, as well as a host of smaller, more marginal parties (such as the Greens, the British National Party, etc), UKIP was never seen as a threat to become a viable voice in British politics. And yet, UKIP has been leading in the polls as the European elections approach, giving us the hilariously predictable and panicked responses from the major parties. You see, UKIP are a bunch of racists, and must not be trusted. At least there are a few sane voices who see the accusations of racism as irresponsible and dangerous but, for the most part, English media reached consensus that the UKIP rebels were racists ages ago.

There just has to be a global leftist cabal akin to the pentaverate. How else does one account for the remarkably consistent message that conservatives, libertarians and anyone else unimpressed with the status quo are nothing more than racists, the tactic most used by the left in Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States? Do these groups coordinate with each other, or is it just a universal trope that left wing parties will inevitably resort to accusations of racism? I’m inclined to believe it is much more of the latter than the former, given the left’s propensity for viewing society as a clash of class and race, and not much else. As with most things that are terrible, we can thank Marx for this too.

Fortunately, a hero is on the scene. Nigel Farage is impugned by many in the English media as a “one man band” and UKIP comes under immense criticism for lacking a deep bench of members on par with Farage. The degree to which this criticism is fair or not is open for debate (my own unscientific analysis is that UKIP has many capable leaders but also has many who are unqualified and undisciplined and who wither under the klieg lights of scrutiny, which bolsters the view that it’s all about Farage) but what is not debatable is the prowess and pedigree of Farage himself. Rarely photographed without a pint or a cigarette, Farage uses his everyman charm to compliment his commanding voice and passionate opinions. His diatribes on the floor of the European Parliament against what he sees (accurately) as policies leading inexorably towards a super European single state are riveting and inspiring. Farage boldly accuses the leaders of the (unelected) European Commission as being closet communists, and he’s right. Juan Manuel Barroso and Herman van Rompuy are indeed interested in creating a communist superstate in Europe, all under the guise of stability and security, for in their view, it was the pernicious “nation-state” with its borders and its nationalism that led to the tragedies of the twentieth century (haven’t they heard Obama and Kerry trumpet the virtues of this new century being gloriously free of conflict and aggression? You know, “nineteenth century behavior” is behind us?). Farage has been shoving EU failure squarely in the faces of those responsible, and the commissioners at the EU have been forced to sit meekly as Farage has spent years thundering about the inevitable demise of the euro and the coming electoral wave that disbands political union and restores national state sovereignty to all concerned. Farage is particularly exciting to this American observer because of the parallels UKIP shares with the “libertarian moment” here at home. And just as we libertarians find ourselves in pitched battle on two fronts, with our own arrayed against us in many respects, so too does UKIP take flak from all corners.

There’s a great piece in the UK Spectator about how UKIP isn’t really a party but a rebellion within conservatism. In this regard it is very similar to the Tea Party, the difference being that in Britain it is much easier to go third (or fourth, fifth, sixth) party, whereas our two-party system forces intra-party rebellions to remain intra-party. Still, despite a lot of Labour and Lib Dem disaffected voters coming over to UKIP, it is still essentially a libertarian-conservative movement made up of mostly pissed off Tory voters who view their conservative establishment in Westminster with as much a jaundiced eye as we view ours.

Step one of the UKIP revolution is winning the European elections held May 22-25. Step two would then be leveraging that momentum in order to secure a referendum on getting the UK out of political union with the EU. But even with an expected triumph in the elections, UKIP will still face an uphill battle in getting David Cameron, Nick Clegg and Ed Milliband to convince their staid party establishments that a referendum on EU membership can no longer be avoided. To date, only UKIP have offered a committed stance on leaving the EU, which explains UKIP’s success more than anything, as it is the issue above all others in England right now. Once you separate the UK from the EU (a prospect that was deemed quite impossible just a year or so ago), then UKIP will likely come to a gradual reconciliation with the Tories if the Tories show that they’ve gotten the message and are willing to ditch their current brand of statist conservatism.

It’s striking how many parallels exist between UKIP and the Tea Party/libertarian cohort here in the States. Both are facing entrenched opposition from unhinged leftists as well as from establishment grayhairs in their own parties, and both represent the lone voices of sanity on liberty, markets, sovereignty and composition of government.

It’s interesting that political insurgencies seem to only come from the right these days. Probably that is because the hard left long ago co-opted the Democratic and Labour parties, making it quite unnecessary for the left to worry about facing energetic insurgencies from its base, its base already being well placated and pandered to. That establishment “conservatives” across the Anglosphere have become such squishy statists explains the persistence of both the Tea Party and UKIP. Their anxiety over society’s growing divide between the rank and file citizens they represent and the entrenched special interests and bureaucrats fighting to defend the status quo is not going to abate until such time as the powers that be have taken notice and changed their ways.

With the barbarians at the gate, the temptation to order archers to the towers and trebuchets to the ready is surely strong but, as President Obama loves to remind us, this is “the twenty-first century” and, with such direct recourse unavailable, establishment elites in both England and America resign themselves to rhetorical warfare, hence racism.

This guy never butchered language as badly as the progressives do.

David and Goliath

I have not yet read Malcolm Gladwell’s new book, David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants, but I have read Ben Domenech’s outstanding piece in The Federalist on the application of the David and Goliath trope to our modern politics, as well as Daniel Hannan’s marvelous new tome on the uniquely British origins of constitutional liberty, and I believe they share a common and important insight about man’s capacity to resist arbitrary rule, in the same sense that underdogs like David are compelled to resistance against all kinds of Goliaths.

Domenech taps into one of Hannan’s central points about the American Revolution: that the revolutionaries did not see themselves as progressives or even radicals, but as conservatives bent on restoring their rights as free-born Englishmen. To the extent the patriots viewed themselves as revolutionaries at all, Hannan explains, it was in pursuit of a 360 degree turn of the wheel, back to their Anglo-Saxon roots when traditions of representative assembly carried over from their Germanic tribal days blended with budding conceptions of personal autonomy, as well as a preference for local adjudication based on precedent over abstract principle, known as the “common law.” After the Norman conquest however, much of this tradition was wiped out or sent underground as the continental invaders imposed feudalism and the Divine Right of Kings on the land; this would be the galvanizing force of English rebel libertarians for five hundred years until at last with the Glorious Revolution of 1688 they were able to “cast off the Norman yoke” and reassert the primacy of their natural rights.

Our own founders were interested in a similar restoration of their rights when they told King George III to shove it. But these were not men rebelling against a foreign power, rather they saw themselves as any colonial would have at the time, whether patriot or loyalist: as Englishmen. Our “revolutionaries who took up arms against the British weren’t just rejecting a form of political leadership, disemboweling the past in order to start a new regime (as the French did). They were seeking to claim back their old rights from nearly a century earlier.” And this is where Domenech draws a parallel between Gladwell’s advocacy for underdogs and our present conservative political stalemate between the Establishment and the Tea Party, “which is carrying on the traditions of the American Revolution, in ways they may not even recognize.”

It is not difficult to intuit why underdogs enjoy rich histories in both fact and apocrypha. Every child loves a story about a small band of heroic warriors who triumphed against long odds, and it usually doesn’t matter if the tale is true or enhanced through mythological retelling, like the difference between the 1980 US hockey defeat of the USSR and the legend of Sparta’s 300. What matters is the romantic allure of the underdog prevailing simply because his was the just cause, his heart the pure. But can the same exaltation of the underdog be applied to intra-partisan politcal arguments over tactics? The David and Goliath parable seems only relevant to tales of combat and competition, but do rhetorical skirmishes between the Tea Party and the Establishment deserve the same juxtaposition? Domenech thinks so:

For those intellectuals on the right equipped with some insight, they recognize that the thread of populism which runs through Bunker Hill and The Alamo is an ally, not a foe. But for those who are prisoners to their narrow frame of the world, misunderstanding this long-running American tradition has turned into dripping condescension of the populist right. They decry the Tea Party and its new institutions as a kabuki dance performed for filthy luchre from ill-mannered hicks and racists… not realizing that it is in the nature of populism, particularly conservative populism, to see the structures of power more clearly for what they are, as opposed to what they claim to be.

Just as the aristocracy of the day bought the Tories with the benefits of privilege, so today the existing Goliaths guard the status of the self-styled elite. Their approach to government not only protects elite status but also creates it, typically without merit – paired with the authoritarian technocrats’ belief that they know best, and have the right to make that best a reality. It’s why such elitism is the one thing they are conservative about – the modern aristocracy bequeaths titles of nobility for surviving the attacks of the hicks, protecting its own, and attempting to control the agenda in the same way they did in pre-revolutionary times. But the more Goliath ignores, insults, and fights David, the stronger he becomes.

The problem is that these Goliaths are slow and clumsy, and that, equipped with the technology-driven power of collaboration and the institutional wherewithal to match the established fundraisers, the Davids have more than enough smooth stones in hand to do what they came to do. The superior force on which the giants’ success depended grows ever less impressive with each passing election cycle. And the rebels are at the gate.”

“Elites” is a pejorative more generally used to describe paternalist liberals and their effete coastal constituencies, but here it accurately characterizes the temperament of entrenched Republicans in Washington as well. It’s become almost cliche for populist conservatives to accuse Establishment conservatives merely of “protecting the status quo,” but often cliches become cliches because they are true. There is a certain arrogance among many Republican elder statesmen in their frustration and occasional contempt for the new flock of conservative populists in the Capitol. And even if Establishment concerns about tactical politicking are sometimes warranted, they too often forget what the insurgents represent: the underdogs.

There is profound confusion on left and right about the Tea Party’s staying power as a national force in politics. The left derides it as an “astroturf” conspiracy cooked up in the devious halls of Koch Bros., Inc. The right haughtily insists that without Sharron Angle and Christine O’Donnell, all would be well in today’s GOP-controlled Senate and the federal government would not have been “disastrously” shut down, thereby halting for a whole two weeks a small amount of non-mandatory operations. But the truth is that the Tea Party is stronger and more viable than ever because it is a diffuse movement of principles and ideas rather than an organized entity with uniform leadership and planning. Quoting Van Jones at a Netroots meeting of progressive minds in 2011, Matt Kibbe addresses Jones’ exasperation at how the Tea Party “talk rugged individualist, but they act collectively” by explaining:

“He and his colleagues don’t seem to understand that communities can’t exist without respect for individual freedom. They can’t imagine how it is that millions of people located in disparate places with unique knowledge of their communities and circumstances can voluntarily cooperate and coordinate, creating something far greater and more valuable than any one individual could have done alone.”

It is understandable why a former communist Occupy Wall Street cheerleader would express confusion and deem “ironic” that a group of passionate individualists should be able to achieve political ends collectively. He simply doesn’t appreciate the power or the validity of the principles that guide them. But for the staid Goliaths of the GOP to similarly disregard and disrespect the diffuse coalition of focused and committed Davids in their own ranks explains why there is a “civil war” in the Republican Party today. It is never wise to discount the underdogs, especially those named after this celebrated example from our own history. What is the story of the American Revolution if not one of underdog triumph?