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Not everyone who disagrees with you is a closet right-winger
I guess we have to do this: A high-level overview of my political views.
As political pet peeves go, this one is pretty high on my list. There’s a habit among a certain type of left-leaning political commentator to brand you as a right-wing conservative if you’re even one step to their right. They’ll sometimes characterize you that way even if you’re not discussing your political views at all, but instead engaged in reporting or analysis that implies bad news for their side.
Here’s a good case-in-point involving — well, me. Parker Molloy, the author of the newsletter The Present Age, concluded in a response to an item I wrote last week about President Biden’s age that I was concealing my real views — which are that I desperately want Ron DeSantis to become president:
It certainly seems like Silver wants DeSantis to win the GOP nomination (and the presidency), but instead of just saying as much, he sort of bounces around and tries to data his way out of it.
This is a very strange (and incorrect) conclusion from someone whom I’ve had basically no interaction with whatsoever. And while I don’t really want a back-and-forth with Molloy, it does seem like people are telling on themselves with this sort of thing. The “journalists should/shouldn’t be activists” debate is played out and doesn’t need to revisited here. But what I find remarkable is that is that Molloy can’t even seem to imagine someone doing journalism for reasons other than trying to advance a political narrative for partisan reasons. Everything — including a column pointing out something as basic as that Biden being 86 years old by the end of a potential second term is a big fucking deal — is assumed to be some coded, stealth bit of political advocacy.
Still, since people regularly misstate my political views — and since I’m now in a period where I’m working for myself for the first time in roughly 13 years — it’s probably worth giving you a high-level overview of them. I don’t think there should be anything too surprising here if you’ve been reading me in good faith over the years.
In 2012, in an interview that Molloy cited in her piece, I described myself as being somewhere between a liberal and a libertarian. My orientation hasn’t changed much, so that’s still a decent overall description of my current views if I’m speaking in the context of an American political conversation where people often mistakenly use “liberal” as a synonym for “left”.1 However, in most of the rest of the world, I might simply say I’m a liberal or at least within the broad range of liberal political traditions.
Here’s what I mean by that. I believe in strong protections for individual rights and liberties such as free speech. In rest of the world, liberalism is generally associated with the market economy, and that’s something I support too; I believe that markets empirically produce much better outcomes than central planning. (Hey, I did go to the University of Chicago.) However, I also favor a reasonable-sized role for government — a much bigger role than a libertarian would — in providing social services, facilitating some degree of wealth redistribution, intervening when there are market failures, and recognizing problems of incumbency (i.e. how certain groups or people have historically been advantaged or disadvantaged).
On the Political Compass test, I’ve consistently wound up about here for many years:
I’m also a believer in democracy, which I see as more robust than rule by technocratic elites or central planners. At the margin, for instance, I’d rather that more public officials were directly elected — perhaps even Supreme Court judges, though I’d have to give that more thought — and that more issues were decided by ballot referendums. I’ve probably moved further down the axis toward democracy rather than technocracy in recent years because I think political partisanship has worsened the performance of the expert class, though not irredeemably so and I think the U.S. still has fairly high state capacity. But I’m far from being some sort of populist. Rather, I’m more of a Chruchillian in thinking that democracy is the worst system ever invented, except for all the other ones.
In the context of contemporary American politics, this generally puts me closer to the Democratic Party than the Republican Party, or at least the Republican Party since it was taken over by Donald Trump. Trump’s lack of respect for democratic norms and institutions, culminating in the events of January 6, is something I simply see as disqualifying, though that is far from the only reason I wouldn’t vote for him.
In fact, in spring 2016, I registered as a Republican to vote for John Kasich in the New York presidential primary. I’m not a particularly huge fan of Kasich, but I felt that the difference between a Kasich-led GOP and a Trump-led GOP would make a large difference to the future of the country, larger than the one between Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders being the nominee of the Democratic Party. Plus, since there are few Republicans in my congressional district in Manhattan, and since Republican delegates are allocated by CD, my vote had a lot of leverage. In fact, Kasich won my district by only about 100 votes, costing Trump a delegate.
However, I’ve voted Democrat for president every year since I was old enough to, except 2012 when I was working for The New York Times and had developed some weird internal logic that I shouldn’t vote in an election that I was forecasting. (I’ve since grown out of that phase.) If I had voted I would have voted for Barack Obama or perhaps Gary Johnson, though I’d definitely have voted Obama if New York was a competitive state.2
It is likely that I’ll vote Democrat for president again in 2024. I would certainly not vote for Trump, DeSantis or Vivek Ramaswamy, though I do see Trump as being much more of a threat to democracy than the other two and I think there has been too much equivocation about that. I could imagine voting for a hypothetical Republican presidential nominee over a hypothetical Democrat in some circumstances, but I don’t expect those circumstances to manifest themselves any time soon. I have occasionally voted Republican or independent for state or local office.
However, I have also become more estranged from what you might call the progressive political class over the past several years. One reason is that this class has rapidly become more left and less liberal — compare the Democratic presidential platforms of 2020, which began with a land acknowledgment, with Obama’s in 2012, which began by talking about the American Dream. I also strongly disagree with the left’s elevation of “misinformation” as a category of concern over free speech. There may also be some personality-driven dimensions to why I tend not get along with a certain type of of progressive personalty on social media, though Twitter rarely brings out the best in any of us.
I plan to revisit some of these themes at some point, such as the difference between liberalism and the various flavors of leftism. But in terms of my personal political views, I hope I’ve said enough. It may not stop people from misrepresenting them, but at least I’ve made them clear.
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In other words, while I’m definitely not a capital-l Libertarian, saying I have some lower-case-l libertarian tendencies can nudge people toward what I think the correct definition of liberalism is.
I would not have voted for Mitt Romney; my saying that that I’d decide between Romney and Johnson in the TV interview Molloy cited was a misstatement. I meant to say I’d decide between Johnson and Obama. I guess I don’t blame her since she’s quoting me verbatim, although I do think this should have been obvious from the context. I was talking about being somewhere between libertarian and liberal, corresponding to choices of Johnson and Obama.