Tag Archives: Claremont Port Side

Lone Star Farce: A Response to the Claremont Port Side

In what will be the most high-profile gubernatorial race of the year, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott looks to succeed the 14-year incumbent Rick Perry, who has led the Lone Star State to the pinnacle of economic prosperity. Abbott’s Democratic opponent will be State Sen. Wendy Davis, who ascended to national fame in 2013 by filibustering a strict Texas abortion bill that ultimately became law. Unless Abbott catastrophically implodes, the governor’s mansion is unequivocally projected to remain in Republican hands. Regardless, liberals nationwide have seized this opportunity to advance their agenda of exposing misogynistic elitism and the oppression of women.

The Claremont Port Side appears to have drunk the Kool-Aid. In an article titled “Lone Star Democrat – Why Texas Can’t Handle Wendy Davis,” published in the magazine’s recent “Feminism Issue,” the two authors embark on a variety of uncoordinated tangents and proffer a series of unsubstantiated claims regarding the gubernatorial race. As a consequence, the article’s account of the gubernatorial race is misleading, and skews political realities to accommodate their narrative of Republicans unfairly persecuting Davis.

Throughout the article, the authors advance the idea that “republicans are desperate to slander Davis’ character” because “an ambitious woman threatens men.” However, this assessment rests on a painfully superficial understanding of Texas politics. Kay Bailey Hutchinson (R-TX), the first female Senator to represent the Lone Star State, recently retired after a very successful 20-year congressional tenure. Her enormous popularity was exhibited by the fact that she nearly defeated Rick Perry in a 2010 GOP primary challenge for governor.

Other women who have made significant inroads into the Texas political scene include two current justices of the Texas Supreme Court, Eva Guzman (R-TX) and Debra Lehrmann (R-TX), both of whom have been elected with wide margins. Moreover, Nandita Berry (R-TX), recently became the first Indian-American and one of only a handful of women to serve as the Texas Secretary of State.

In an obvious way, these women are all living, breathing examples of how “women can stand up for themselves in Texas.” They are indicative of the fact that oppression of women in Texas politics is neither systematic nor commonplace. As a result, the Port Side’s underlying theme that Davis will suffer in the general election due to an anti-female political environment holds little to no merit. She’ll suffer in the general all right, but she’ll lose on policy – not as a victim of insidious structural oppression against women.

Nevertheless, the authors seek to crystallize on this point, claiming that “by virtue of her being a woman, Davis endures far more scrutiny than male politicians.” Yet the only concrete example provided of unfair criticism directed at Davis is an isolated incident in South Carolina (note: South Carolina), where former state Republican Party Director Todd Kincannon made a series of offensive and ill-advised comments.

I wholeheartedly agree that Mr. Kincannon’s slanderous Twitter campaign was despicable – but one cherry-picked extreme case from another state does not prove a rule. Here’s an alternative narrative that coheres with all the facts: conservatives are critiquing Davis because she’s a liberal progressive, and investigating the accuracy of her personal story because (and let’s be absolutely clear on this point!) she’s playing the game of politics.

Greg Abbott, a paraplegic, has been subject to equally venomous slander from the Davis camp.

Battleground Texas, a liberal group composed of veteran Obama campaign officials, seeks to help elect an increasing number of Democrats in the Lone Star State, Davis included. A recent undercover video exposed members of the organization mocking Abbott for his disability and confinement to a wheelchair. The legitimacy of the video is validated by the fact that it merited a response from Davis herself, who quickly condemned the video’s cruel language.

Wendy Davis has undoubtedly received brash, unwarranted criticism that lacks any possible justification; however, liberals such as those at the Port Side appear to suffer from severe tunnel vision, believing that they are the only victims of political foul play. This is a dubious proposition considering the aforementioned criticism direct at Abbott, which was sadistic and beyond the realm of reason. Remember: this is politics we’re talking about.

The authors conclude their disparate series of observations by offering the prediction that the “conservative backlash against Davis” will be “pervasive enough to significantly impact the gubernatorial election.” Once again, this assertion simply is not grounded within the realm of reality, and is nothing more than wishful thinking.

For months, Abbott has held a comfortable double digit lead over Davis, one that is not expected to dissipate anytime soon. Perhaps the most damning reality for liberals is the fact that no Democrat has been elected to a statewide office in Texas since 1994. In today’s deeply polarized political environment, the chances of Davis upsetting the status quo are minimal at best.

While those at the Claremont Port Side may believe that Davis will be able to remain a “viable political candidate in Texas,” we at the Claremont Independent hold a more rational perspective.

Barring a move to another state, Davis will likely disappear into political abyss following a decisive defeat this fall. This is due to the fact that the current political environment in Texas, coupled with the limited lifespan of political candidacies, will effectively mitigate Davis’s chances of ascending from her state senate seat to any statewide office.

Brandishing the victim card and angrily appealing to the oppression of women, while classic feminist strategies, are ultimately ineffective at securing concrete political outcomes – at least in Texas. In addition to energizing the Republican base, polarizing feminist rhetoric will alienate many independent voters, which are critical in a general election. So don’t be surprised when Abbott sends Davis into political oblivion this November.

Defining Libertarianism: A Rebuttal to the “Claremont Port Side”

In his May 2 article, “An Ideology at Odds with Itself,” David Leathers of the Claremont Port Side argues that people who claim to be “fiscally conservative and socially liberal” – namely, Libertarians – hold an inconsistent set of beliefs. On Leathers’ account, socially liberal causes like free birth control and higher education student loan subsidies cut against the grain of fiscal conservatism and require higher taxes; however, Leathers’ account rests on a misunderstanding of what Libertarians mean when they identify as “socially liberal” and fails to recognize how a fiscal conservative might consistently claim to be socially liberal.

The traditional distinction between fiscal conservatives and liberals rests on the distinction between negative and positive rights. Where fiscal conservatives typically favor negative rights of non-interference, liberals generally favor a more expanded role of taxation and government in redistributing wealth so as to ensure substantive equality of opportunity. The fiscal conservative stance has its philosophical roots in the libertarianism of Robert Nozick, who famously argues, “Taxation of earnings from labor is on a par with forced labor…taking the earnings of n hours labor is like taking n hours from the person; it is like forcing the person to work n hours for another’s purpose.” On this view, redistributive taxation is unjust because it is tantamount to coercion.

In an obvious sense, Libertarians would be committed to negative liberties like marijuana legalization, gay marriage, and freedom to choose, but not policies which require taxation, for instance the Affordable Care Act. Yet, as Leathers notes in a recent email interview with the Claremont Independent, “Sure, you can be ‘socially liberal and fiscally conservative’ if you only endorse a narrow swath of negative rights, but in 2013, socially progressive causes encompass much more than just ‘negative liberties’ like the right of gay couples to marry.”

To a certain extent, Leathers is right. Even self-styled Libertarians typically recognize the necessity of redistributive initiatives such as the public school system and some level of state-sponsored medical insurance. Fiscal conservatives typically justify their commitment to these sorts of policies with reference to equality of opportunity. However, liberals can just as easily justify a commitment to a more expansive set of redistributive policies by appealing to the same principles. As Leathers explains, his commitment to liberal initiatives like the ACA and government-sponsored higher education is founded in a belief “that we should elect a government that helps to create equality of opportunity for each citizen.”

Who’s right? Most reasonable people think that a system of total redistribution is unjust. If I work, I ought to be entitled to keep my wages. But yet, as Leathers correctly points out, “a rich person who gets sick is more likely to recover than a poor person without health insurance. This rich person can return to work and support their family. The poor person cannot…the cycle continues.” On both my Libertarian view and Leathers’ liberal perspective, the need for fair equality of opportunity overrides the Nozickian principle that taxes are unjust.

The question now becomes, “To what degree does a concern for equality of opportunity dictate a policy of redistributive taxation?” This question is a thorny philosophical problem. Leathers agrees that “it is impossible to tell when there really is ‘equality of opportunity,’” but suggests that “this is the direction our country needs to head.”

I disagree. Leathers’ account blurs the distinction between equality of opportunity and substantive equality. Leathers suggests that “giving each kid a free college education would be a major component” of ensuring equality of opportunity. But this kind of substantive educational equality is conceptually distinct from the kind of equality of opportunity I, as a Libertarian, espouse. A policy of government-funded free college education for every child seems, superficially, to ensure an equal level of economic opportunity to college graduates entering the workforce. But there’s a conflation of terms at play here: the economic opportunity Leathers appeals to is, in fact, a masquerading form of substantive equality of outcome.

Equal opportunity in the Libertarian sense of the term is grounded in exactly the kind of negative rights that delineate Libertarian views from liberal perspectives. A person’s opportunity is equal to another’s if that person is not deliberately coerced in a manner that restricts her capacity to freely act upon her ends. Provided a person is not deliberately excluded, in spite of her merits, from attending college, that person’s opportunity to attend college is exactly equal to any other person’s.

Of course there are exceptions to this rule: Libertarians could defend a publicly funded education system through high school since children aren’t fully developed moral agents and ought not to be held responsible for their parents’ financial situation. Somewhat differently, Libertarians could defend a system of baseline health insurance as a policy that accords with the general will of the people: most people intuitively think that everyone ought to have access to a decent minimum of healthcare even if, like me, they aren’t aware of a compelling moral argument for why this is the case.

But it is clear Leathers’ argument in favor of equalizing economic opportunity does not fit into this Libertarian conception. Perhaps if everyone attends college the least-well-off will learn enough to earn higher wages and make their lives substantively better. But compressing the range of economic outcomes is only just if one is committed to substantive equality. “Substantive equality of opportunity” sounds appealing, but isn’t conceptually distinct from “substantive equality of outcome.’”

Libertarians, conservatives, and liberals alike must reconcile themselves to a hard truth: although human persons are worthy of equal moral concern, with respect to their natural capacity to lead healthy, prosperous lives, human beings are radically unequal. By virtue of the birth lottery some people wind up with high IQs and are born to wealthy families. Economic outcomes are generally much better for Claremont College students than high school dropouts. But what’s the alternative? Liberal guilt over the fact that one is well-off in life is philosophically bankrupt: a commitment to justice only requires a commitment to negative rights of non-interference. Life isn’t fair.

Where does this leave us? Libertarians are committed to negative liberties like marijuana legalization, gay marriage, and the freedom to choose, which are grounded in the principle of non-interference, but not broadly redistributive policies like the Affordable Care Act. This is the sense in which Libertarians mean they are “socially liberal.” After all, as Leathers points out in his article, the key issue for fiscal conservatives who claim to be socially liberal is gay marriage. Leathers might be right in suggesting that “social liberalism moved far beyond traditional ‘negative rights’ a long time ago,” but that merely means that “socially liberal” is a misnomer for Libertarians like myself, not that our ideologies are internally inconsistent.

I would suggest, then, that the real debate David Leathers and I should be having is a philosophical one. Liberals like Leathers are committed to the idea that a respect for human dignity requires more than a commitment not to infringe upon the rights of others, whereas Libertarians like me disagree. It may be the case that we as human beings are morally obliged to minimize the suffering of others through redistributive policies, and so ought to be liberals. But that’s an open question. For now, it suffices to say that it’s perfectly consistent to deny the primacy of that obligation.