James Leroy Wilson's blog

Saturday, March 17, 2007

The Poison Pill

A week ago John Zmirak wrote at Taki on the difference between opponents and enemies. A Republican for whom pro-life is the #1 cause, pro-choice Democrats are the opponents, but a pro-choice Republican like Rudy Giuiliani is the enemy. To illustrate the point, but with a different issue in a different context, he discussed his experience as a college student in Louisiana in the early 1990's. Democratic Governor Edwin Edwards was a blatant criminal. Louisiana has an open primary, in which all candidates ran in one primary and the two top vote-getters contest in the general election. The incumbent Edwards and ex-Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke were the two top vote-getters. Zmirak, the conservative columnist at his college newspaper, endorsed the criminal Edwards in the general election. Edwards did win it, but Duke did get the majority of white votes in the state. As Zmirak puts it:
It was unsettling. People I’d met at church, who claimed to be solid Catholics, found themselves lining up behind a politician who favored pressuring welfare mothers to undergo surgical implants of the dangerous contraceptive Norplant. They were so desperate to win, so angry at leftist political elites, and so appalled at Edwin Edwards (an unapologetic crook who makes Bill Clinton look like Aleksandr Solzshenitsyn), that they were willing to overlook the “20 percent” of issues on which they disagreed with Duke. Conversely, liberals who loathed Edwards’ corruption bought bumper stickers and slapped them on their Volvos that read: “Vote For the Crook—It’s Important.”
How bad must the incumbent be to even consider voting for the unapologetically racist candidate who demagogued affirmative action, welfare queens, and the like to carry his candidacy? Edwards served his time, but one must give Zmirak credit: In a race between Hitler and John Gotti, he chose Gotti. There are some lines you just have to draw. There some evils that are so much the "lesser" of the other that, as a matter of honor and self-defense, you just have to support. And it doesn't matter that Zmirak may have agreed with Duke "80 percent," on balance the 20% with which he disagreed outweighed all the reasons he opposed Duke.

How bad was Edwards? Considering how a white Lousianan must have known at the time that the rest of America would shun and boycott the state if Duke won, and reviled Duke's racism, and voted for Duke anyway, Edwards must have been pretty freakin' bad. I don't know, I can't judge, I wasn't there, but I admire Zmirak for having the moral clarity to see the bigger picture.

Everyone has their own subjective values. Mine agree with Zmirak's on race, though they don't agree with his on religion or abortion. But after reading Zmirak's piece and some other developments, I have a greater appreciation for seeing things from other persepctives. After all, I realize that I, too, probably agree with David Duke, if not on 80% of the issues, probably at least over 50%. But race is, to me, a poison pill: an obviously racist candidate would never get my vote.

Zmirak's piece clarified some other issues for me as well. Last year, one libertarian came to my attention who viewed one of the websites I have written for as an "enemy." He/she was a professional escort of the "and then she was a he" type who took walks on the wild side. This website I wrote for also featured writings of one who was a pioneer in a religous movement that had speculated on the applicability of Old Testament stonings of homosexuals. Not that such speculations had appeared on the website, but the writer of such speculations not only appeared, but was a regular, writing about other issues. The libertarian escort I came across viewed this anti-gay "libertarian" economist/historian/theolgoican as an enemy.

For most of this past year, I'll admit to thinking this: what does it matter? Don't you and this other person agree on over 80% of the issues? Don't you both want a smaller government? Don't you both want to abolish punitive taxation? Don't you both want a non-interventionist foreign policy? Etc. etc. But you know, it doesn't really matter, because the one would, ideally, stone the other. How can I blame the theoretical victim of the stoning for not wanting to associate with the other, even though they "agree" on most of the issues? From my perspective, they're both headed in the same direction, but from either of their perspectives, they're going in opposite directions. From their perspecitves, they're mortal enemies.

And who can't empathize? If I were black, I'd like to think I'd be libertarian and support maximum freedom, including freedom of association, but I wouldn't support racist candidates under any circumstances. Likewise, were I a member of a sexual minority, I wouldn't support anyone who in their own way supported anyone who would put me to death. But since I am neither, it is harder for me to be "sympathetic" or "understand." From my perspecitve, an overreaching federal government is the enemy to be defeated, and all other enemies can be defeated or will fade away after this one is slain first.

But my perspective isn't the only correct one. I can swallow some views and arguments precisely because I'm not sensitive to the interests of minorities of which I'm not a part. My best hope is that homosexuals, African-Americans, and other minorities may appreciate the larger threat I see from an uncontrolled, imperialist federal government, that they forgive me for, yes, my insensitivity, and that we all find ways to protect minority rights and the freedom of all.

Everyone has their poison pill issue. For one, it might be borderline or openly-racist rhetoric. For another, it might be religious and moral intolerance. For me, it is the pro-war position. Anyone who is "good" on the other 80, 90, 0r 95% of the issues might as well be a KKK member if he supports the war in Iraq and wants war on Iran. Out of bounds.

Anyone who claims to be a libertarian and supports America's current and imminent wars isn't to me just an opponent, but an enemy.

1 comment:

  1. John Zmirak4:20 PM PDT

    I enjoyed this piece, and was gratified to see that my article provoked such an interesting reflection. The creepy Nazi-era jurist Carl Schmitt made much more of the opponent/enemy distinction, arguing essentially that for politics to be truly meaningful, one must have no opponents, only enemies. That's a very dangerous view, of course-- making amicable Anglo-American style politics and compromise impossible. It's how you end up with things like the Spanish Civil War.