Media Narratives: Rand Paul is the New Josef Stalin


If your Friday at the office was as slow as mine, then you probably saw this op-ed at Bloomberg. Authors Nick Hanauer and Eric Liu, a venture capitalist and a former Clinton speechwriter respectively, argue that “radical libertarianism” is the new communism in terms of the threat it poses to America, which may be the most half-cocked postmodern claim I’ve heard since someone told me the ending to LOST was, I quote, “actually really well-done.”

We could debate the op-ed’s assertions and show exactly where it fails, but if you’re already reading Thoughts on Liberty, you don’t need my help. Nick Gillespie and National Review’s Kevin Williamson have already done much of the heavy lifting there. Suffice it to say, the authors don’t appear to know jack shit about the history of libertarian thought, having instead pieced together their understanding based on whatever The Exiled or FireDogLake is writing about “Koch Bros” these days. It’s 800 words of strawmen and uninformed reckons about “radical” “libertarian” boogeymen such as Rand Paul and Ted Cruz. That it was even published does not speak well of the editor. If I gave Gina a post for TOL that showed such a poor understanding of the subject matter, she’d look at me like I just tried to set her hair on fire. Behold, a few examples:

Some, such as the Koch brothers, are economic royalists who repackage trickle-down economics as “libertarian populism.” Some are followers of Texas Senator Ted Cruz, whose highest aspiration is to shut down government. Some resemble the anti-tax activist Grover Norquist, who has made a career out of trying to drown, stifle or strangle government.

Transparent attempt to reposition popular political figures as “dangerous” radicals in cahoots with the Brothers Koch: Check. (Also: really? Grover Norquist runs a multimillion-dollar nonprofit, but he’s more dangerous than the guy in the suit with his finger on the LAUNCH DRONES button? Utter madness.)

[T]here are plenty of self-described libertarians who have adopted the label mainly because they support same-sex marriage or decry government surveillance. These social libertarians aren’t the problem.

Oh, social libertarians, a.k.a. self-styled libertarians who just care about civil liberties, a.k.a. plain-old American-style liberals aren’t the problem. Thanks for clearing that up, I was confused.

Radical libertarianism, if ever put into practice at the scale of something bigger than a tiny enclave, would also be a disaster. We say the conditional “would” because radical libertarianism has a fatal flaw: It can’t be applied across a functioning society… Radical libertarians would be great at destroying. They would have little concept of creating or governing. It is in failed states such as Somalia that libertarianism finds its fullest actual expression.

There just has to be a corollary to Godwin’s Law with respect to the certainty that any uninformed debate about libertarianism eventually comes down to Somalia (thanks a lot, Sorry guys, but Digby beat you to that gem a while ago (don’t feel bad, he missed the distinction between anarchy and failed states, too).

There are dozens of claims in the piece for libertarians to quibble. I’d like to know what convinced Hanauer and Liu that they had a solid enough grasp of an ideology – one that they clearly don’t subscribe to – to go on the record calling it “dangerous?” Why did Bloomberg View’s editor decide to publish this? More broadly, what is the standard for online opinion journalism? Why does so much general-interest opinion journalism on the Internet that actually gets read (that is, shared a billion times on Facebook) consist of little more than some bloke criticizing some complex subject he doesn’t understand well enough to comment on?

Putting it in terms of “what does it all mean, Aunt Merryweather?”, I can think of three explanations, not mutually-exclusive, for this ridiculous opinion piece (not the content of the piece, but the fact of its existence).

First, the usual clickbait and the declining standards of journalism. An editor for one of the top 20 American news outlets should be able to discern argument from crap, but it’s probably more lucrative to identify controversial material that invites engagement these days.

Second, Nick Gillespie (linked above) thinks the poor quality of this piece suggests the well of anti-libertarian arguments is running dry. I’m less convinced. Although libertarians have dissected and discussed and deconstructed the nuances of our philosophy among ourselves for decades, to the general Bloomberg-reading audience, we’re still invisible enough for Hanauer and Liu’s reasoning to sound… reasonable to the average Bloomberg reader.

Third, the media is broken, it just reflects the biases of its readers, which in turn are reinforced by the broken media and influenced by advertisers, in a never-ending feedback loop, compounded by the reality that the people who pay the closest attention to the media are… other members of the media. It tells us what we want to know, not what we need to know. Now, I‘ll grant you that this might sound like a tinfoil-hat, “it’s the system, man” kind of answer, but did you really think the readers of, (“well educated, successful professionals and can afford the luxury of an affluent lifestyle”) needed to be convinced that they don’t like Ted Cruz, a Republican from Texas? Think about this: The faction that’s most at risk from “radical libertarians” is the GOP, so it would make sense for RedState or NRO to tackle this angle (and they do). Is it possible that the fourth estate – not just Fox News and MSNBC and all the ideological little blogs – is really just a big psychic mirror?