Aug. 1, 2002
Inside a stone farmhouse in San Marcos, Dottie and Bill Barnes celebrated their birthdays and their wedding anniversary with their relatives, friends, and acquaintances from the Heart of Texas chapter of FreeRepublic.com.
FreeRepublic is a self-proclaimed "conservative"1 news site, founded in 1997. It has become a genuine cyber-community, with about 70,000 registered members, or "Freepers," with their own vocabulary, assumptions, and factions.2 I began reading it in early 1999. Then, the Freepers, originally united by their hatred of the Clinton administration, collectively were at perhaps the height of their skepticism toward all aspects of the corporatist, managerial-therapeutic, warfare-welfare state.3 Since Bill Clinton finally slithered from public office,4 the divisions among Freepers have become more pronounced, a microcosm of the "conservative crackup."5
About three years ago, Freepers began forming real world chapters. I joined the nascent Heart of Texas chapter in March 2001. At the outset, two incompatible groups – soccer moms and blue-collar men –constituted this chapter.6 Also, my participation discombobulated most of the others, particularly the women. Admittedly, a Libertarian with modernist cultural tastes and highly conservative social views presents some conceptual challenges for most people, not just Boomer7 suburbanite divorcees with spoiled, effeminate children.
Anyway, participation in the chapter dropped with each subsequent monthly meeting, from about 50 in March 2001 to about 20 in August 2001. Thus by default soccer moms dominated the organization. Characteristically, they were more emotional than rational.8 The women also fretted about being “respectable" in their mild efforts to roll back the size and scope of government.9
In fairness, most of the local Freepers only became politically active, within a "dittohead"10 paradigm, during the Clinton administration,11 whereas I had been working to reduce the State long before that. Undaunted, I persisted in LP outreach efforts with the Freepers through the spring and summer of 2001. Several were slowly coming along until the Sep. 11 attack.
Within 24 hours, my efforts were undermined like the upper floors of the World Trade Center. The local Freepers quickly fell into lockstep behind the Bush administration. That supporting the “war” agenda essentially contradicts the mission statement of FreeRepublic.com and the local chapter mattered not a whit.
Moreover, FreeRepublic.com owner and founder Jim Robinson cracked down on the posting of views that dissent from the federal government (which also pays his military pension). Robinson posted this Sep. 30:
Etc., etc. etc. The pro-war Freepers have been slower to change their views in comparison with the general polity. Interestingly, women are consistently the most supportive of Robinson's view. Skepticism has returned to the forum, but it is considerably diminished from its 1999 or even its Sep. 10 levels.Lots of grumbling lately about deleted posts. Well, my friends, the simple truth is the game has changed. We are now at war. We have been attacked by a vicious cold-blooded force of international terrorists who want to destroy our nation, our freedom and our way of life. There is no doubt about this. Knowing this, I am alarmed to read some of the stuff that has been posted to FR in the last few days. This is not the time to raise doubts about our leaders. This is not the time to raise conspiracy theories. This is not the time to second guess our intelligence agencies. This is war. This is survival of our way of life. We must unite behind our Commander-in-chief and do all we possibly can to support him and our war efforts. We do not have a choice in this matter. The terrorists who attack us do so without warning and without mercy. They do not want peace. They do not want to co-exist. They do not want appeasement or negotiation. They want to destroy us. They want to destroy our way of life. They want to destroy our freedom. They want to destroy our nation. They have no conscience, no respect for life, no compassion and will give no quarter. Death of the USA is what they seek.
I ceased attending Freeper meetings, unwilling to endure hours of female jingoism and hysteria. Nevertheless, I remained on good social terms with a few Freepers, such as the Barneses.
At their party, I learned that the local chapter still exists, though it now boasts only 10 members. Sadly, without my prodding, the local Freepers returned to their reflexive mental support of State power, at least when Republicans control it. They had forgotten the true conflict exists between liberty and power. It took a lot of persistence to rekindle the flame of true liberty within them.
Lowering the Boom
Appallingly, the Libertarians in recent weeks have been scarcely better than the Freepers.
Libertarians elected former Texas LP chairman Geoff Neale of Bee Cave to be the national chairman at the national convention in Indianapolis July 4-7.12
Alas, I wasn’t able to attend. I calculated it’d cost me $1,000 just to show up, and find out it don’t rain in Indianapolis in the summertime.13
The 46-year-old English native received 261 votes (45 percent) on the first ballot. His closest competitor, Elias Israel, 38, of Burlington, Mass., received 178; and George Phillies, also of Massachusetts, received 123. Under party rules, Phillies dropped out for the second ballot. Phillies’ delegates would have switched their support to Neale. Before the second ballot, Israel conceded “in the name of party unity” and declared his support for Neale.14
Too bad. Israel, the East Coast 13er15 with enough brass for a symphony orchestra, would’ve represented a new, improved image for the LP. As yet, 13ers will have to content themselves with control or dominance at libertarian institutions such as Reason and Liberty magazines, Web sites like LewRockwell.com and Spintech, and party affiliates in places like Travis County.
But the contempt displayed by Boomers leaves a sour mood. Few groups in America display as much viciousness toward their defeated foes.16 It isn’t enough that Neale triumphed at the national convention; Back in Austin, he and his cohorts danced a victory jig on Israel’s fresh corpse.17 Israel’s sincere withdraw from the second round of balloting, for the good of the party, counts for nothing among the Boomers posting at various discussion lists hosted by Yahoo! and Topica.18 Israel must really have rattled their precious perception of How Things Are, which depends on Boomer hegemony and increasingly is at odds with reality.19
First, I should point out that Neale and his wife, Nancy, were nearly the only local libertarians I met prior to March 2000 who displayed any sympathy or even comprehension as to my effort to find work in Austin. Sympathy isn’t the same as result, however.20 Regardless, Neale comes across as an insufferable prick to people on the first meeting. And much as I like the guy, I’ve always had the strong sense that he’s a bit disconnected from reality, because he’s had it so good for so long. Whereas people of my generation – and this includes the apparently successful Elias Israel – earned at least a junior college degree from the school of hard knocks.21
Whether Neale can truly lead a contentious organization like the LP remains to be seen. If he focuses on the mechanics of improving the organization, we’ll all be better off.22
For Neale is burdened by his socialist upbringing. That’s a hard gestalt to shake.23 Nor does it help matters that he’s a self-described “left-libertarian.”24
“Left-libertarian” is a polite term for what Lew Rockwell calls “modal libertarians” – a bad combination of cultural alienation and political conventionality, sanguine about centralization of power and friendly towards the rise of the social therapeutic aspects of the State.25
Modals’ true hostility has not been to the State as such, but to social mores, religion, family, community, and other bulwarks of self-governance against State tyranny. Their characteristics are those of what Robert Nisbet calls “loose individuals,” created by the State through its previous successful assaults on such bulwarks, and all else that stand between it and an “atomistic” individual.26 Thus conditioned by the State to a degree far more than they’re willing to admit, many who think of themselves as radical opponents of State power more closely resemble the protagonists from “1984.”27 In this, willfully or not, wittingly or not, these modals have served as passive supporters of an increasingly oppressive government.
Murray Rothbard described them thusly:
Calling them “conservative” sends them into spastics worthy of John Cleese.29 In daily practice, they’re the functional equivalent of country-club Republicans.30Following the spirit of Ayn Rand, of whom most libertarians had been ardent followers, libertarians claimed to be genuine individualists and revolutionaries, totally separate from the right-wing, and bringing to the world their own brand new political revelation. And indeed, the libertarian movement has always been almost willfully ignorant of any history or any aspect of foreign affairs….
Part of this grandiose separatism, which I did not fully realize at the time, stemmed from an intense hatred of the right-wing, from libertarian anxiety never to be connected with or labeled as a conservative or a right-wing movement.28
The modal mindset seems to be nearly exclusive to the Boomers. Out of some 3,000 libertarians of my acquaintance, I scarcely know of anyone under 40 who qualifies as a modal. Many, however, are conservative leaning. Given that the post-Boom generations represent the future of the party (Israel's recent defeat for national chairman notwithstanding), the LP leadership will have to reconsider several of its basic assumptions if it is to remain a viable vehicle for liberty.
Instead, they prefer to attempt alliances with the Greens and others completely incompatible with libertarian principles. Such efforts have been unsuccessful repeatedly, for at least 35 years.31 That history of failure didn’t dissuade Neale. After months of post-Sep. 11 foreign policy opinion virtually indistinguishable from the Bush administration’s hard-liners, Neale attempted to woo statists at the Bill of Rights Rally at Woolridge Square on July 20 by using their vocabulary.32 He is apparently unaware that all statists who have evolved into supporting true liberty on any issue have done so by accepting our terms and our terminology.33 And for all the pandering to groups whose core members will never vote Libertarian, Neale appears to be undisturbed at presiding over a party that’s just ceased advocating the abolition of the CIA – a platform plank for more than 25 years.34 But it's "conservatives" who are truly able to develop a “principled hatred for the State and all its works.”35
Sadly, the leadership of the Travis County LP – easily the best I’ve worked with in 12 years – has been forgetting these vital lessons. Instead, the TCLP sponsored a sophist speech July 21 by Will Harrell of the American Selective Civil Liberties Union.36 Harrell spoke at the TCLP’s Distinguished Speakers Series. Afterward, TCLP vice chairman Rick McGinnis presented gifts to Harrell. A swift kick in the ass would’ve been more fitting.
The ACLU started as a Marxist-skewed organization that was occasionally useful, albeit selective, in defending liberties from the assaults of the U.S. government.37 Then the ACLU defended the right of Nazis to march in Skokie, Ill., and its funding dried up.38 Since then, the ACLU has been content to function more as an auxiliary of the U.S. government, specializing in rooting out religion's public presence.39 In particular, the ACLU delights in turning Christians into second-class citizens. (President Nadine Strossen began speaking at libertarian functions in the early '90s, but proved unwilling to fight the feds for your civil liberties involving guns and property, to name two topics).40
Paradoxically, the groups like the ACLU most opposed to conflict – and the ones the modals are trying to woo – are actually the ones that will gain the most as they figure out how to how to piggyback their agendas onto the “war” mobilization. In turn, they’ll serve as the ideological bodyguards of the strengthened power elite and work to destroy the social forces that could have prevented an endless conflict.41 In short, these groups oppose the current conflict in bad faith. Entering even a single-issue ad hoc alliance with people diametrically opposed to us is of dubious benefit to the LP.
Better arguments – libertarian arguments – against the Bush administration’s present course have existed for decades. To repeat: Governments use or induce war or other crises to increase, centralize and consolidate power, at the expense of people’s lives, wealth, liberties, morals, social cohesion, and local control over their communities. The negative aftereffects from this create a ratchet effect that makes successive crises likelier, with the vicious downward spiral repeating itself until everyone and everything good is destroyed. Such arguments are “conservative” in the sense that they look to existing social arrangements and the preservation of what people already have as preferable to a strong central regime that eliminates anything that constrains the individual. These arguments resonate with far more people.42
In fact, on July 27, I heard U.S. Rep. Ron Paul make those same points to a group of Republicans and get multiple standing ovations.43 Of course, culturally, Paul is a real American.44 The modals couldn’t get along if they lived in Galt’s Gulch.45
Ding, Dong, the Witch is Dead
One bright result from Indianapolis. Incumbent national secretary Steve Givot decisively beat challenger Carol Moore 349-147. In fact, at the 1998 convention, Givot narrowly beat Moore 209-182. You have to know Givot to understand the magnitude of both his initial victory and increased margin for the second match. Givot is a first-rate asshole. I experienced it personally in 1992 when he interviewed me for a job with the Andre Marrou presidential campaign.46 If you can’t beat Givot, get out of politics altogether. I suspect during the interim LP activists read Moore’s defining work, the essay “Women vs the Nation-State,” which blames everything wrong in the world on men.47 Moore’s defeat is perhaps the most rewarding outcome of the entire convention.
On the Scene
The job search took an unexpected twist. An acquaintance from the Low Tech Happy Hour48 forwarded an e-mail invitation to a Sushi Pageantry Party at Whiskey Bar downtown. Some guy named Darren Odden, whom I don't know and never met, threw a party to celebrate the televised Miss Texas USA Pageant, complete with $2 bar drinks – that someone bought for me – and complimentary sushi rolls. The whole event was proof – as if anybody needed it – that Texas is full of pretty women.49 The pageant appeared to feature a succession of perky blondes. Meanwhile in the bar, I was chatting up a succession of women, who were also perky.
Anyway, the crowd favorite, Mandy Jeffreys, Miss Central Texas, lost. I walked a block east to Antone's for Blue Monday, the traditional blues jam. So I can finally say I've seen one, after some 18 years of hearing about it, and about a month of actually attempting to see it. It wasn't one of the legendary performances.50
The Harcourt Building at Braker Lane and MoPac Expressway is for sale.51 Broadwing reported a second-quarter loss, but the Statesman reports that the fiber-optic network provider is disputing the soured long-term assessments of Wall Street analysts.52
Simon Property Group will build large open-air shopping malls in Buda and at Interstate 35 and Chandler Road in Round Rock.53 The Austin Chronicle reports Austin will have almost 9 million square feet of vacant office space by year’s end.54
Longtime Mad magazine contributor Dave Berg is dead. Call it the Lighter Side of Arghhh, Plotz!55
Both the Austin Chronicle and Xlent featured musician David Baerwald for the July 19 and 18 editions, respectively.56 I read about Baerwald years ago, in Time.57 But his critically extolled music eluded me on the radio and elsewhere. Out of sound, out of mind. Then, the ravaged Angeleno, looking like Dorian Gray’s portrait, moved to my town.58 So I listened to samples of his music from when online.59 The music still eludes me.
The increasingly glossy Austin Monthly contains a feature
on Austin’s hottest neighborhoods that it undercuts with close-up photos of
home furnishings.60 Hey, Austin Monthly, I want to see the
houses in these neighborhoods, not some arty shot of a typewriter. To compound
the laughs, page 31 has a full-page ad for the new Plaza on Republic Square.
In it, aging yuppies are chatting and sipping wine – and ignoring the view
from the upper floor. Sort of defeats the point of having one.