Available Now! (click cover)

America's Counter-Revolution
The Constitution Revisited

From the back cover:

This book challenges the assumption that the Constitution was a landmark in the struggle for liberty. Instead, Sheldon Richman argues, it was the product of a counter-revolution, a setback for the radicalism represented by America’s break with the British empire. Drawing on careful, credible historical scholarship and contemporary political analysis, Richman suggests that this counter-revolution was the work of conservatives who sought a nation of “power, consequence, and grandeur.” America’s Counter-Revolution makes a persuasive case that the Constitution was a victory not for liberty but for the agendas and interests of a militaristic, aristocratic, privilege-seeking ruling class.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Sarah Palin

John McCain's selection of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as his running mate reinforces what I said in my op-ed "Well, That's Politics" (see below). She was picked because the campaign calculated that she would push certain buttons in coveted constituencies: suburban women, feminists, antiabortioners, evangelicals, the conservative Republican base, maverick independents, women with five kids, women with kids with Down syndrome, etc. (I know -- how can you please all these conflicting groups?) Secondary to the process is whether she is actually "qualified" to be president, which she could be called on to be as early as one moment after McCain takes the oath of office. (Or maybe earlier, I'm unsure what happens if the winner of a presidential election dies before he's inaugurated. Anyone know?) McCain may turn out to be a genius and win because of Palin. But I'm unconvinced. I think that when pushed, he will have hard time looking into the camera during a debate -- without that silly, smirky grin -- and assuring people she is qualified to succeed him. I don't think people will buy it. On the other hand, they will be able to see as Joe Biden as president. (Heaven forbid!)

Of course no one is qualified to be president. Those are probably the only true words Bill Clinton has spoken as a politician. But then, no one is actually running for president. McCain and Barack Obama are in fact running for emperor. That's not just a rhetorical flourish. If you look at America's foreign policy today and the array of powers that have accumulated in the "unitary" executive branch, the office looks more like the head of an empire than the modest executive described in the Federalist Papers. (Granted, those were propaganda sheets designed to assuage the fear of empire among Antifederalists.)

No one is much interested in musings such as these. We're ear-deep in the democracy game, an Orwellian exercise in which we vauntingly rhapsodize about freedom and self-government while banishing any thoughts that the whole thing is as rotten as month-old fish.


Stephan Kinsella said...

Sheldon, it seems to me a normal, intelligent, competent, "together" American who also has been governor of a state is quite as "qualified" to be President as any veteran Senator--more so, if her views are less noxious than those of the senator. You may be right that she will not be perceived this way by the typical voter, but certainly for the libertarian she should be.

Sheldon Richman said...

What would commend her to a libertarian?

Thomas Bell said...

There are three "qualifications" to be president:

1) Read the Constitution.

2) Understand what you read via #1.

3) Follow what you read via #1.

That's it, and Sarah Palin (et al) can do all three before the election (in fact, she can do all three before today). There is no experience needed. Now whether or not you are fond of the Constitution is irrelevant; it is the "Supreme Law of the Land", and all elected officials swore to "preserve, protect, and defend" it before taking office. Of all the elected bureaucrats, only Ron Paul is qualified to be president.

Sheldon Richman said...

Tom, which Constitution, Jefferson's or Hamilton's? They read the same piece of parchment and saw two different things. "The Constitution" is not a good answer to anything, I'm afraid.

Thomas Bell said...

This Constitution--the only US Constitution I know. But I can see how two different people can read the same thing and come up with two different interpretations, whether they read the Constitution, Articles, or anything else. The Supreme Court is supposed to "interpret" the Constitution, but the Supreme Court interprets it differently from me, and the vast majority of Americans, if those people are honest. However, the Supreme Court is not honest; they slanted it by playing politics.

John Delano said...

We would certainly be better off if she followed Thomas Bell's advice, but doing so would cause her to question her support of McCain.

Limiting one's self to the Constitution isn't a consideration for anyone that has a chance of winning.

I sometimes wonder if it would be best to have the worst and most unlikable person win. Then maybe people would revolt, and there would be successful secession movements. Maybe Barack would be the most unlikable, but I don't know. At least he might cause some on the right to resist the executive branch again. I hope whoever takes office on 20 January has record low approval ratings at inauguration.

Chris Baker said...


It's hard not to be intrigued by this pick, and I loathe McCain as much as anybody does. She actually made some nice comments about Doctor Paul in an MTV interview earlier this year. Last year on the Daily Paul, there was some speculation that she would make a good running mate for Ron Paul. And Camille Paglia seems to like her. She's about as un-DC as a candidate could be.

I have a feeling that McCain is trying to take someone that he thinks he can mold. I have a feeling that nobody is going to mold this woman.

At the same time, cleaning up corruption in a state of 700,000 is a relatively easy task compared to the cesspool that is DC. It's like going from junior high school football to the NFL.

Sheldon Richman said...

I don't see that it's obvious that the Supreme Court has been dishonest about the Constitution. It was written as a deliberately vague document designed to satisfy multiple interests. It's very much an inkblot. Madison said it contained "few and defined" powers, yet he also endorsed the doctrine of implied powers. Let's get real. The Constitution was the result of a virtual coup intended to overthrow the Articles of Confederation. The feeling among the movers in Philadelphia was that there was too little central government, not too much; too little protectionism, not too much. I don't understand the constitutional sentimentalism among some libertarians. As Spooner said, the Constitution either authorized the government we have or was powerless to prevent it. Constitutions don't interpret or enforce themselves. People do, thus the rule of law is always the rule of men. Protection of freedom will not come from constitutions or "limited" Leviathans but from competition.

Sheldon Richman said...

Chris, she was also in the
Buchanan Brigade in 1988. Sounds like she's a protectionist and anti-immigration, not to mention an advocate of Buchanan's "culture war." I'd be surprised to learn that McCain doesn't like her just the way she is.

Isn't it worrisome that as late as last year she said she was not interested in the U.S. occupation of Iraq? I doubt if she was attracted to Ron Paul's foreign policy. Do you think McCain would have picked her?

Robert Virasin said...

I want to give her a chance to see how she responds to specific questions. Sometimes words can have a far reaching impact than action. Obama does not seem to be a change from the current president who believes in a a Paternalistic Government. I will be listening closely for the next two months. If I do not like what I hear, I can skip the vote or vote Libertarian.

Bob Murphy said...

Hmm this is one of those times (thankfully rare!) where my opinion changes with each successive comment I read. I think Stephan is right that an "inexperienced" person is much preferable to a Washington insider, but I also agree with Sheldon that this particular inexperienced person is the exception to the rule.

In other words, I would prefer a randomly selected person to be president, than the one who wins our much ballyhooed process.

But Palin isn't random. She was consciously chosen by McCain, and not because she just won 5 gold medals.

Sheldon Richman said...

You all realize, I hope, that I am looking at this from the perspective of regular people, not libertarians with an obsession with public affairs. Nevertheless, McCain aside, she has shown no interest in foreign policy and other national and international issues. She apparently doesn't read about them or think about them. That says something. Is she likely to be sympathetic to the libertarian agenda? I seriously doubt it.

Niccolo said...

I agree entirely with Sheldon.

First, I seriously doubt Palin is in anyway sympathetic to "libertarianism." She's against the legalization of the sissy drug of pot, for God's sake!

Second, I also think the Constitution was intended to be ambiguous and that, for the most part, the government does follow the Constitution.

Those commerce and general welfare clauses weren't added for nothing, you know.

I suggest listening to Sheldon's lecture at the FEE seminar.

Lots of little nuggets to oppose the Constitution with. It convinced me.

Chris Baker said...


I just checked out the blog of Eric Dondero. If Dondero likes her, that does not bode well at all.

I didn't like Buchanan much in the 1990's. Buchanan does believe in an America First foreign policy.

Wirkman Virkkala said...

There are a number of reasons to look favorably on her as a candidate, the chiefest of which is that she's rather like Eris's apple: She will sow confusion. A whole segment of the sexist Democrats will become unhinged, and this is good. Americans are on the brink of accepting outright socialism in several industries right now (medicine, energy), but generally they tend to hate the elitist nonsense from the left. Palin will encourage Democrats to fly their true stripes, as elitist haters of diverse opinions amongst women.

She is not of course a libertarian. But she does "offset" McCain in several ways that libertarians can at least find interesting.

I am perhaps succumbing to Advanced Menckenian Syndrome here, looking at the whole thing not primarily ideologically but sportively. It's a circus. It's very amusing. It will be fun to see professional politicians make fools of themselves, and fun to see a few Americans catching on.

Palin may help in this.

Bob Murphy said...

I realize this is straying off topic, but I just want to say you guys are nuts for denying that the government is violating the Constitution. :)

I agree that some libertarians--and especially anarchists!--have a strange fascination for the document, which would be hideous if it were forcibly imposed on a free society. Even so, c'mon, the Constitution was a pretty neat attempt from some really wise gents who, I believe, honestly wanted to restrain government. It didn't work, of course, and that just proves government can't be contained.

But why are you denying that it provided the chains around government, that the government had to figure out how to break?

Chris Baker said...

It will take a lot for the American people to catch on. I think it would take about 200 million brain transplants.

It has to make you wonder when a neo-con like Dondero is saying good things about her. Bob Bidinotto, another raving neo-con, is also saying good things about her.

Sheldon Richman said...

Bob, re the Constitution: Read up and you'll see. Or listen to Jeff Hummel's and my lectures on the FEE website.

Sheldon Richman said...

Wirkman, I'm with you. Mencken's perspective on political campaigns is the only way to go. In that regard, we can be grateful to McCain and Palin. And Biden, for that matter.

Sheldon Richman said...

Niccolo, don't forget the "necessary and proper" clause. It drove the Antifederalists up the wall. They also realized that the taxing power was "all-embracing," as the Supreme Court said in 1916.

Bob Murphy said...

Sheldon said:

Bob, re the Constitution: Read up and you'll see.

Well OK, but I just did read Woods and Gutzman's Who Killed the Constitution? It's not like I asked you, "What do you guys mean, E=mc^2?" :)

Or listen to Jeff Hummel's and my lectures on the FEE website.

Can you give me a link?

Gene Callahan said...

"There are three "qualifications" to be president:

"1) Read the Constitution.

"2) Understand what you read via #1.

"3) Follow what you read via #1.

That's it..."

Wow, that's amazing! Do you think the only qualifications for being appointed as a research scientist are to be willing to read and follow the laboratory rules?

Gene Callahan said...

ANd it's, in fact, pretty funny that, if you actually do read the Constitution, it lists several other qualifications for being president! Simply following Tom's advice refutes his post immediately.

Gene Callahan said...

"But why are you denying that it provided the chains around government, that the government had to figure out how to break?"

Because it didn't provide any such chains? The US government wasn't acting according to the "strict constructionist" idea of what the Constitution meant about ten minutes after it was established.

Sheldon Richman said...

Bob, Jeff Hummel's lecture is here: http://tinyurl.com/67ausd

Mine is here: http://tinyurl.com/6c6dn2

Also, see Jeff's article here: http://tinyurl.com/5ph6kl (pdf)

Keep in mind that Madison's and Hamilton's complaint as they headed for Philadelphia was that there was too little, not too much, government. Jefferson was in France.

Jimi G said...

"I don't understand the constitutional sentimentalism among some libertarians." Sheldon Richman

What is interesting to me is that reasonably included among these misunderstood libertarians might be Jacob Hornberger. Mr. Hornberger is president of FFF and is an avowed Constitutionalist. Hornberger ends almost every op-ed of his with an exhortation to return to the principles of the U.S. Constitution (according to his interpretation, of course). I have been reading the well-reasoned essays of both Mssrs. Hornberger and Richman since 2000.

Sheldon, you have been a chief contributor to Hornberger's publication Freedom Daily for years. I don't draw any conclusions from this. I accept that free-market anarchists can be friendly with limited-state constitutionalists for any number of reasons, but could you try to enlighten us as to why you feel his organization, which essentially contradicts your position (Hornberger is a statist, after all) is suited to spreading YOUR message, or why understanding his POV eludes you after all these years?

Sheldon Richman said...

Jacob Hornberger for years has done yeoman's work teaching people about free markets, free immigration, noninterventionist foreign policy, the evil of the "drug war," etc. Do we have disagreements? Of course. I can't imagine I agree with anyone on every important matter. But he graciously presents my work to his many fans and subscribers -- even when he disagrees.

By the way, the American Heritage Dictionary defines "statism" as "The practice or doctrine of giving a centralized government control over economic planning and policy." Mr. Hornberger opposes that doctrine as firmly as anyone I know.

Jimi G said...

Thanks Sheldon.

As for the definition of statism and Hornberger's relation to it, I agree he vehemently opposes the union of economy and state. However, I believe you and I are in agreement that the U.S. Constitution is no starting point for that discussion.

To my mind, since Hornberger supports a limited state, he is still a statist. Whether you agree with me or not, I believe that simple thought experiments and logic can illustrate the impossibility of limited government. Many of these experiments are not of my devising, BTW (e.g. Spooner).

If one believes that limited government once prevailed and the means that achieved it was the U.S. Constitution, then one must be held accountable for the results, not the intentions, which after all is Hornberger's second most common theme.

Bob Murphy said...

Hmm. Well, unfortunately I have neither evidence nor theory to combat your scurrilous assertions about our Founding Fathers. Next you'll tell me they condoned human bondage.

I have asked Tom Woods to weigh in here, but he is busy psyching up disgruntled Republicans and might not have time for you America haters.

(P.S. For those who don't know me, I am being "funny" because I really can't answer Sheldon and Gene's points.)

Westmiller said...

Of course no one is qualified to be president.

Actually, any natural born citizen over the age of 35 is totally qualified for the office.
But, I totally agree with your point. So, what are the qualifications for being a dictator? Mainly, pandering to the military (... industrial complex) and the reigning oligarchs.
Beyond that, it's just a flip of coin as to whether you want to be a fascist or a communist dictator.
Therefore, the only question is whether John McCain can flip a coin.

Anonymous said...


You said:
Nevertheless, McCain aside, she has shown no interest in foreign policy and other national and international issues. She apparently doesn't read about them or think about them.

I think there is a myth that foreign policy is the purview of the President. Trade, wrongly I might add, is under the control of Congress. Treaties, while negotiated, by the Pres. must be approved by the Senate. And it times of war, the pres. is only Commander in Chief. The Congress controls the purse strings.

Sheldon Richman said...

Anon, but that's not how the people in charge see it. A president will exercise foreign-policy powers almost unilaterally. This has been the point of Bush's Unitary Executive Theory.