Happy President’s Day.
I’m announcing my candidacy for the presidency of the United States in 2016. Yes, this is a joke. Aside from serving as a union president at a public library, I’ve had no political experience. I’m not in bed with the Washington establishment, nor am I registered as a Democrat or Republican. I’m a left-wing libertarian who’s tired of choosing between liberal Democrats and right-wing libertarians as the lesser bad.
In other words, I’m the perfect man for the job.
For this opening statement I’ll confine myself to seven issues which I consider of paramount importance, ranked in order of importance.
1. Free Speech. The First Amendment is first for a reason. It’s the bulwark of a free society. Without it other freedoms are empty. But the First Amendment doesn’t protect itself. People do, and politicians must. There are no waivers for free speech — no exceptions at all. It only works when it’s unconditional, even when it offends. That’s always been its point.
Two recent events are relevant here. First is the Supreme Court case of Snyder vs. Phelps (2011). The Westboro Baptists (as fringe and hateful as Christians get) picketed a corporal’s funeral in protest of the nation’s growing tolerance of homosexuality, brandishing placards which said “God hates fags” and “Thank God for dead soldiers”. The corporal’s family found this hate speech beyond the pale, and of course they were right. But the Supreme Court was more right: as long as the Westboro members don’t incite riots, disturb the peace, or interfere with the funerals they protest (and stand x-number of feet away), they can and should have every right to shout out their litanies of hate. That decision was 8-1, which sounds like a slam dunk, but even a single dissenter on a First Amendment issue is alarming. Justices are appointed by the president, and in today’s PC climate, it’s not far-fetched to imagine four more justices making a chorus of Samuel Alito’s dissent. And that’s all it takes to kill free speech.
The other event is the Charlie Hebdo massacre last month. Most reactions were postive. Some of the liberal reactions have been appalling. It’s been claimed that while the jihadist killings were obviously wrong, Charlie Hebdo is a racist, and at the very least should not have been supported in the “Je Suis Charlie” march — at most even called out for depicting the prophet Muhammad “offensively”, with a long nose, scraggly beard and turban, and bug-eyed distortions. The kind of images, in other words, that recall the cartoons of Jews by Nazi propagandists, and of blacks by white supremacists. Leaving aside the fact that Charlie Hebdo has ridiculed every religion and social group under the sun, the right to parody religions, their peoples, and especially their leaders is a keystone of any democracy.
And as an aside, I’m not sure it’s possible to satirize a Middle-Eastern man of the sixth century in a way that wouldn’t seem racist to the PC crowd. Is it more the nose, or the beard and turban? How on earth should Muhammad or jihadists look in a political cartoon? There are clean-shaven terrorists who dress to blend in western society, but in most cases sketching them this way would make for incompetent satire.
The First Amendment is non-negotiable, period. As president I wouldn’t appoint justices like Samuel Alito (as Bush did), and I would have the decency to get off my ass and march alongside every other national leader in support of Charlie Hebdo (as Obama didn’t).
2. The Middle Class. It’s been under attack since Reagan, but we’re long past the breaking point. I would come to the Oval Office as a disciple of Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. Neither are anti-capitalist; each respects the role of business in America. They — and I — simply want markets to work in favor of American families, as much as banks and corporations.
It’s a long road to fixing income inequality and rebuilding a middle class, but here are some essential moves.
(a) Invest more in education. And stop the government from making huge profits by taxing student loans in order to keep tax loopholes open for millionaires and billionaires.
(b) Invest in more research: medicine, science, engineering, nanotechnology, touch screens, vaccines, gene therapies, GPS. Let brilliant minds flourish.
(c) Raise the minimum wage. $7.25? Try $11.00. Get the working poor out from having to rely on additional public subsidies.
(d) Help unions. Only a tenth of today’s workforce is represented by unions (I’ve been fortunate to be in this fraction.) Back in the days of a strong middle class, it was a third.
(e) Improve health care. Expand social security and medicare. It’s what people really want, even when they insist they don’t because programs like Obamacare are so “communist”.
The Republican party has no use for any of this. But it’s what we need to resurrect the middle class.
3. Islam. Government, intelligence and law enforcement agencies must start telling the truth about Islam. So must liberal academics. Every faith has its fanatics, but the “fanatics” of Islam base themselves on plausible readings of their scriptures. They aren’t fringe, unlike Christian abortion clinic bombers and lone rogues like Timothy McVeigh. In many places they’re mainstream. Jihad warfare is an essential pillar in every school of Islamic jurisprudence; sharia law is mandatory. The problem isn’t with Islamic fundamentalism. It’s with the fundamentals of Islam, and the texture of beliefs shared by hundreds of millions of Muslims. Many Muslims who would not carry out terrorist attacks support them nonetheless; and still more believe things about apostasy, heresy, free thought, women and gays, which make the conservatives of other religions seem liberal.
There are honest Muslim reformers who acknowledge this — that violence, intolerance, and expansionism are built into Islam’s DNA. Irshad Manji, Maajid Nawaz, Asra Nomani, and Zuhdi Jasser to name a few. We must applaud and support them, but in full recognition that theirs is a terribly uphill battle. The Qur’an, when read honestly, doesn’t provide much ammunition for progressive liberals.
As president I would stop U.S. aid to countries that engage in sharia oppression, and cease cooperation with any groups linked to Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood. Financial aid can’t stop terrorism in any case. Contrary to the myth, poverty isn’t at the root of jihad. Many terrorists — we see example after example — come from middle-class families that are well-integrated, and are as normal as we consider normal to be.
We’ve labored under the illusion that we can bring democracy to the Middle East by toppling dictators and encouraging their opponents to work for elections and peaceful change. Bush thought this when he removed Saddam Hussein; Obama thought so when he aided in the fall of Mubarak in Egypt and Gaddafi in Syria, and more recently Assad. The result is anything but democracy. It’s chaos and anarchy in Libya; unrest and instability in Egypt; the strengthening of jihad and sharia groups all over. The dictators we’ve toppled were obviously bad; but what fills in the void is worse.
Along the same lines: speaking the truth about Islam shouldn’t be used to justify war-mongering. We have to stop policing the world. Groups like ISIS should be fought by others for a change, particularly Arab nations closer to home who are more directly affected. This should be true as a general rule of foreign policy: we’ve wasted far too much money abroad when we should be devoting our energies to domestic problems. Such as…
4. The Drug War. The drug war is an obscenity that should have been crushed back in the ’80s. We ruin the lives of nonviolent drug users (especially non-whites in poverty) by imprisoning them, and waste tons of money on this racist policy. And we make room for these people who don’t deserve to be incarcerated by paroling murderers, rapists, and child molesters. This is as wrong as policies get. For a black president like Barack Obama to have done nothing about it floors me.
After free speech, there is no right more sacred than the right to ingest what we want, and to steer our consciousness as we please. This goes for all drugs — marijuana (which should be legalized without debate), psychedelics (which are risky, but can offer profound experiences difficult to obtain otherwise), and yes, even the hideous drugs like heroin and methamphetamine. The proper steps against drug addiction are the same as against alcoholism: education, and rehabilitative support networks. When Portugal ended its own drug war through legalization, the country’s population of addicts went down by half. That’s the proof right there.
5. Renewable Energy/The Environment. Renewable energy alternatives are also long overdue. Not only because our oil money pays for jihad activity (see 3, above) but for wider environmental concerns. Solar, wind, geothermal, and oceanic power — all of these and more should be mined with a vengeance. The objection about job loss is empty; renewable energy solutions would create millions of good paying jobs in the wake of those that die.
Global warming is a debatable subject, but it’s no hoax. Most scientists believe it’s a grave threat to the planet, and it’s certainly caused by human-made activities. It’s not alarmist to worry about the ice, flooding, drought, and disease we could be leaving to our descendents if we don’t take the issue seriously.
And while it may seem myopic to single out this issue, the vanishing of the bees has been of serious concern to me. If the mystery of CCD (Colony Collapse Disorder), isn’t solved, fruit and vegetables could quickly become the food of kings. Some combination of parasites, pesticides, and viral infections seem likely culprits, but even scientists are throwing darts in hypothesizing the “smoking gun” behind CCD. I’d invest in this research big time.
6. Choice. Yes women have it, but we need to be sure they keep it. There are plenty who would love nothing more than to see Roe-v-Wade overturned. Since the Republican victories of the 2010 mid-terms, over 200 abortion regulations have passed, which is more than in the entire preceding decade. With even more GOP gains in 2014, things will get worse.
Anti-abortion thinking has no place in the 21st century, and would have no place in my Oval Office.
7. Tribal Thinking. And finally, a more general word. I believe the failure of our two-party system owes largely to tribal thinking. On the one hand, the Democratic Party has become indistinguishable from the Republican on issues like foreign intervention and the increased callous disregard for the 4th Amendment. On the other, polarization continues because each uncritically tows their party line. We should be asking ourselves what’s true, not who else believes it.
Every one of us, at some point, needs hard truths spoken to us by members of our tribe. We should embrace this, however much it offends or makes things difficult for us — even if it makes us unwitting allies of our enemies. This is true in academia as much as politics. (Whenever a “lost” or fragmented gospel is exposed as a hoax, I can predict the scholars who will bend over backwards to defend it.) The best thinkers care less about the company they keep, and more about the integrity of their beliefs. It’s what a good president should be concerned with above all. I promise to hold myself to this standard as best I can.