The “None of the Above” Primary

For some years, “decline to state” as it’s more politely known, has racked up the voter registrations. It’s gone from 9 percent of registered California voters in the late 1980s to almost 20 percent today. And it’s growing – all by itself.

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Mix and Politics

But just as turns an incurably wandering eye into an effective “dating strategy,” we’re fast leaving the days when making things easy for Big Media is the order of the day. Information, the mothers’ milk of politics, is easier to come by and easier to distribute than it once was.

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Giving ’til It Hurts

How badly does William Jefferson Clinton want his wife to run for president? Badly enough that it hurts. Badly enough that he hosted a “blogger’s roundtable” at his Harlem office just last week

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Begin At Home: Politics and Charity

Progressive libertarians got a few steps closer to being a real political and social force in U.S. politics last week. Let’s have a look.
Tuesday, Sen. Joe Lieberman, a Democrat in a tough primary against net “roots” candidate Ned Lamont, confirmed what many had suspected: If he loses the Democratic primary, he’ll run as an Independent candidate, hoping that enough Liberal Republicans in Connecticut will vote for him. It’s not an unreasonable hope. “None of the above” is the fastest growing political “party” in California and in other, affluent parts of the nation and Lieberman has long enjoyed support from the financial community based on Wall Street but living in Connecticut and other New York suburbs. He’s also enjoyed a fair amount of support from Silicon Valley, too, in his various presidential attempts.
The interesting thing here is that Lieberman is not a politician known for breaking from the pack. But he is a politician and a successful one at that. So he’s grabbing onto a trend here, an important one: The path of the moderate, competent political leadership that often goes against the party line. Lieberman’s doing what Eliot Spitzer is doing in his race for the governor’s office in New York, what Michael Bloomberg is doing as mayor of New York City, what Arnold Schwarenegger is going back to doing as the governor of California. All of these candidates are telling voters that party affiliation, while often important, isn’t the deciding factor in picking an elected representative.
One of the characteristics of the Progressive libertarian movement is its faith in competency and individual action. For this crowd, party affiliation can be as restricting as, say, a big corporate job or the bureaucracy created by a huge charitable foundation. The Democratic party, to this way of thinking, is too tied down by the unions. Republicans are beholden to conservative religious groups. So neither can really represent the business-oriented moderate who is interested in solutions first, and rhetoric almost never. The Progressive libertarian is usually self-made (from the middle class, however, not up from poverty) and as a result of that accomplishment possessed of a unique and single-minded belief in his own ability and the ability of others like him (who are well-educated white folks). Progressive libertarians are not interested in the party line, in politics or anywhere else. They are interested in what works, what’s effective, what’s effecient. It’s a carry-over from the business world which is why pols like Spitzer (family fortune in real estate), Bloomberg (Bloomberg Media and former Solomon Bros. banker), California State Controller Steve Westly (eBay millionaire) and Schwarzenegger (movie star) are emblematic of this movement. So is Sen. John McCain who, if he runs for president, will grab and keep these voters. Sen. Hillary Clinton, tied as she and her husband are to the aparatus of the Democratic Party – will not.
Progressive libertarians are just starting to have their influence felt in politics. But if you’d like a look at where things are going, study at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation as well as the foundations run by Warren Buffett’s children. Buffet’s decision to give the bulk of his fortune to the Gates foundation to manage makes it the largest charity in the world with an endowment of more than $60 billion. And, as many have remarked, places a new sort of giving model in the forefront of the non-profit world, a model with political implications.
Gates has been steadily taking over the role once filled by foundations built by oil (Rockefeller) and autos (Ford); Buffet’s $31 billion grant makes that take-over formal. That’s going to mean a geographic shift as the non-profit world’s focus moves from New York to Seattle. But it also means a new emphasis on practical solutions to difficult problems, a reliance on non-profits, not governments for a lot of aid work, particularly when it comes to social services, all underlined by a belief that small, tight management is preferable to large, sprawling infrastructure. Those are the Progressive libertarian’s political goals, as well.
Like a lot of other new money charities, the Gates foundation places a lot of emphasis on practical solutions to difficult problems. It looks for ways to measure things; for ways to maneuver around state bureaucracies (which are often corrupt) to look for solutions at the local level. It’s not the mega-grant, administered by employees who only visit once a year (Gates is a frequent traveler in India); it’s a much more hands-on effort than that. It’s not a coincidence that the folks who brought you “software armies on the march” – writing software by throwing coders at a problem until the job was done – now bring mosquito netting, polio vaccines and basic nursing care to rural villages in India and across Africa. You may not think this is a revolutionary approach to charitable giving – it seems so obvious – but much of the new thinking – developed in the past 10 years – on international giving stems from this way of approaching problems.
And there’s no shortage of ambition. Deep inside this New York Times story on the foundations run by the Buffett children, lies this gem about how one of the Buffetts is interested in giving grants that help reduce the proliferation of nuclear weapons and materials. “It has found few chances for nongovernment entities to exert influence in that field,” the Times dryly notes.
And there’s the danger, really. It may not be hubris but it certainly is pride. And while ambition – particularly in good works – is almost always commendable, the law of unintended consequences looms large. Anyone following the tech business has seen this, again and again, with the U.S. government’s decision (or, probably more accurately, it’s lack of a decision to decide) on a constructive and reasonable set of polities toward China. It was Gates who had the festive dinner for Chinese Premier Ho Jintao when he visited the U.S. President Bush couldn’t be bothered.
Companies like Yahoo, Google and Microsoft have been pretty much left to their own devices when it comes to China. And not for the better. U.S. companies are in a horrible bind when it comes to dealing with the Chinese because the role the government should play, particularly on human rights, has been abandoned. No one knows what to do because no goal – no idea of what the U.S. as a nation thinks should happen – has been outlined.
Foundations like the ones run by the Buffetts and Gates – which support Planned Parenthood clinics, condom programs for AIDS prevention (which the U.S. government only grudgingly supports; another ridiculous piece of posturing) – are filling in for what the U.S. government should do in Africa and India. That’s obvious. But there’s a real danger that in working abroad in this area, they will come to replace government. And, in the process, they will make policy. That may seem like a good idea: AIDs prevention is a good thing; so is getting rid of malaria. But businessmen, for all their good intentions, make crummy diplomats. It’s not a safe bet that they’ll make particularly good international aid workers.
This is the weakness that’s at the core of the Progressive Libertarian ethos: It’s belief that good intentions on the part of talented, well-meaning people, can and often should, outweigh or overcome the current, more entrenched ways of looking at the world that involve consensus, co-operation and, yes, every once in a while, a willingness to toe the party line for the common, if not the greater, good. This isn’t an insurmountable obstacle for this movement but its fundamental contradiction – that the lone actor is often not the least aware of the consequences of his actions – is one that needs to be addressed.

Look Back: Someone is Gaining On You

Steve Westly’s bid to become the Democratic nominee for governor – aka Arnold’s next meal – wasn’t successful. But since he lost that nomination by less than 100,000 votes in a state with more than 10 million voters, his defeat is worth more than the usual “loser” brush-off. Turn out was low, hence the small number. But even that fact bears a look: Politics as usual is politics that bores and frustrates voters.
There are constant cries – pleas, really – for some sort of third party to rise out of the dissatisfaction that Democrats and Republicans have with the folks running their political futures. If the results of this primary don’t demonstrate how strong that feeling is getting within the Democratic Party, I don’t know what does. This movement and its supporters – which I refer to as Progressive libertarians – is both frustrated and interested in politics. Elements of this thinking – which is moderate, business-minded and not very interested in political mechanics – form the basis of John McCain and Arnold Schwarzenger’s campaigns. And while many of the folks who I consider Progressive libertarians trend Democratic, as the pollsters like to say, their moderate message (carried mostly by former Virginia governor Mark Warner) is one many Democrats are reluctant to hear.
In his campaign, Westly treated California for what it is, not what he wants it to be. He ran a campaign for a Red state with Blue trim, ignored the party establishment which lined up behind traditional Democrat Phil Angelides and went to small towns and cities up and down the state’s interior – places where Schwarzenegger triumphs – to see voters. That’s why his poll numbers showed him beating Angeledes earlier in the race. It’s also why the lazy California political press was slow to figure out what he was doing.
But it’s also one of the reasons Westly’s considered a boring candidate. In trying to appeal to the large and vaguely unsettled voters known as moderates, Westly was, well, bland. He tried to have his cake – his status as a party insider – and eat it too – be known as a business-minded outside-the-party guy. He emphasized competence and good government which translated from the business world appeal to shareholders but leave voters a bit nonplussed. This is a tough act to pull off and if Westly were a more charismatic guy – and we’re talking here charisma on the level of a Clinton or Schwarzenegger – he may well have gotten the job done.
He didn’t. But that doesn’t mean Westly’s done. Unlike a lot of tech millionaires, he actually likes politics; he keeps coming back and slogging it out. He’s doing what many wealthy and ambitious men don’t have the patience to do: He’s running for state office, greeting folks who can help him, helping them. He’s running, in other words, for his next office while campaigning for this one. Very smart. Because if all goes as expected, Schwarzenegger only gets one more term and Angelides is going to end this year looking like a big, fat loser.
See, Westly’s strategy can be repeated. Why do you think Gov. Schwarzenegger’s getting on a bus to tour the state today? ’cause he has stock in Greyhound? Westly’s appeal to the same folks who supported Schwarzenegger wasn’t bad politics as Angelides tried to intimate; it’s just not effective Democratic Party politics. But that’s a temporary state of affairs. And that’s the real lesson here.
Why? Because a fair number of loyal Democrats preferred Westly’s message to Angelides. They thought it could – and polls showed it might – have defeated Schwarzenegger. I don’t think that’ the case. But I do think that we’re seeing the beginnings of a trend toward moderation among rank-and-file Democrats. And that has bearing for the fall and 2008.
But don’t try telling that to California Democrats. Like their counterparts across the country, Democrats in this state are pretty oblivious to the new rising tone of moderation. They listen to the fanatics on the blogs – on the left and the right – they are captive to the unions and they believe their virtuous moral argument will triumph and disguise their lack of new ideas, smart thinking or just plain attractive candidates. It won’t. The only good news? .
Angelides, who is a good campaigner (better in many respects, than Westly) won’t defeat Schwarzenegger. Why? Because Gov. Terminator isn’t going to run as a Republican – they have the same problems as Democrats but their candidates are shrewder about their strategy – but as conservative Democrat who just happens to call himself by another name.

A Move Afoot

It’s been a while since this site talked about Progressive Libertarians but there’s been a bit of a froth lately about this movement — it’s getting noticed — so it’s time to take another look.
Writing at Tech Central Station — a classic free market Libertarian hang-out — Arnold Kling talks about The Long Tail of politics which he believes is illustrated by the fact that “none of the above” is the fastest growing political party in the country. Writing in the New York Review of Books — and taking a nice aim at Tom Friedman — John Gray dusts of the phrase “NeoLiberal” and gives it a whirl to describe folks who believe in Friedman’s view of free-market triumphalism.
Kling goes on to say that his version of “The Long Tail” (a trademarked phrase, by the way so this won’t last long) isn’t a party or a coalition or a third part or a silent majority. Gray is more dismissive.
Well, they’re both wrong. But much of what they say is, indeed, accurate. They are — from their unique and very different perspectives — describing Progressive Libertarians in all their contradictions.

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Tie Me Up, Tie Me Down

Over at eWeek, this week’s column is about the big fight that’s starting to erupt between cities – San Francisco, Austin, Philadelphia and perhaps New York – and the big telephone and cable companies.
The cities are building wireless networks. It’s a great way to make tourists happy, fix what’s wrong with cell phone service – here in San Francisco, we play a game called “name the dead spots” – and prove you’re cool. Big telcos – most of whom run cell phone companies – don’t like it. Cuts into their business. Whats worse they say: Cities and towns are using tax dollars to compete against them.
They could use a little competition. Doing interviews for the piece – one with a spokesman for the Cellular Telephone Industry Association, one with the guy who runs Austin Wireless – their phones cut out. Went dead. They had to call me back.
And, no, I’m not making that up.

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And the Women Come and Go…..

The idea that the Internet could help create a viable third American political party isn’t exactly news. But, like Tom Friedman and the networked economy, it is now in the hands of a Big Media pundit so we must, must, must take it very, very seriously.
Particularly since this pundit – The Los Angeles Times’ Ron Brownstein – ends yesterday’s column with the suggestion that there could be a McCain/Bob Kerrey ticket.
Yikes! We gotta get our hands on whatever they’re smoking in the LATimes newsroom. Whatever it is, it’s gooooood.
It gets worse. Brownstein tossed the third-party idea around liberally quoting former Dean campaign guru Joe Trippi, whose been peddling this idea for about a year now, and New Democratic Network organizer Simon Rosenberg, who uses Brownstein’s column to utterly repudiate the middle-moderate strategy on which he founded and built NDN.
(SIDENOTE: Rosenberg’s been as many kinds of Democrats as there are donkeys. When NDN started, he was a Lieberman man and used to talk about stock options. Then he was a Dean supporter and yacked about the Internet. After that he wanted to run the Democratic National Committee and said Dean was divisive. Now, well, he’s uh, a hard core partisan? This is all driven by his financial backers; it can’t get more transparent. Can it?).

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Exiles on Main Streets

Every once in a while, my friend and editor Micah Sifry and I get into a conversation about the power and influence of networks. Micah, the optimist, is one of those who thinks that a new politics of Liberal engagement is going to spring up from all this knowing one another. I’m more inclined to think that the power that individuals can exercise on networks isn’t always a source for what Liberals would define as “good.” I’m a lot more convinced that the self-reliance of Libertarianism will triumph.
On Sunday, we got a look at this conversation from another angle when Jeffrey Rosen’s “The Unregulated Offensive,” appeared in The New York Times Magazine. It’s a wonderful – and scary – look at a group of dedicated conservative legal scholars who are working to overturn the theories and supports that justify the existence of almost every U.S. regulatory agency out there, from the Federal Communications Commission to the Environmental Protection Agency. This Libertarian-inspired movement isn’t a trivial one; in fact it’s cutting-edge legal theory. And it shouldn’t be dismissed. It’s strength – conscious or not – comes from an increasingly common belief on both sides of the political spectrum that government cripples individual’s rights. It can’t be a coincidence that this belief is rising up at the same time that on-line activity – the ability, say, to IM someone in Beijing – is increasing individual’s power to control their economic destiny. I know a little bit about this last part first-hand. You’re reading the results.
The two ideas – the increasing interconnectedness of things and the belief that property rights are a personal right guaranteed by law – don’t seem connected at first blush if you don’t live in Silicon Valley. But consider this: Tom Friedman, in the appearances I’ve seen to promote his new book “The World is Flat: A Brief History of the 21st Century” places great emphasis on the Internet allowing individuals to act for and by themselves on a global stage. That’s why he says the world is flat.

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Only on Salon, where some days it feels the Liberals have lined the moat with alligators and pulled up the drawbridge, can a guy like Glenn Harlan Reynolds – Instapundit to you – be billed a “prominent conservative blogger.”
Not only that, he’s willing to forecast the demise of the GOP. Oh, happy day!
Huh? “Conservative”? Compared to whom? Jesse Jackson? If anything, Reynolds is a pretty typical example of his class and upbringing: A moderately Republican son of the South – that “Harlan” says a lot if you know how to listen – it would be more surprising if his politics were, in fact, any different.
As good as Reynolds has been for my business – and it’s plenty good, believe me – I’m not here to praise him or bury him. I’m here to make a few observations. His essay today on Salon pretty much convinced me that Reynolds – net savvy, not particularly ideological, impatient with the hard Right, exasperated by the far Left – is the, er, pundit doing the best job of articulating the political aims and interests of Progressive Libertarians.

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