Unfortunately, Voters Aren’t “the Adults in the Room”


On Election Day, 1976, I was eight days away from turning 10 years old. As my morning school bus passed the lone polling place in my tiny town, I leaned out the window and yelled, at the top of my lungs, “Vote for Carter!”

I had three reasons for supporting Jimmy Carter. I’d like to think that the biggest one was that I had actually read and agreed with his campaign book (Why Not The Best?) — yes, really, I had somehow scraped up a couple of dollars in change to buy a paperback no normal 9-year-old would have been interested in — but realistically the other two reasons were far more compelling.

First, Gerald Ford was bald. Yes, I was just that petty.

Second, a couple of years before, I had turned on the TV before school to find Captain Kangaroo preempted by coverage of Richard Nixon’s resignation, permanently poisoning my mind against Tricky Dick and anyone associated with him.

No, I didn’t really understand the issues at play, or the policy differences between the two candidates, or what the heck “Watergate” was. Did I mention I was nine years old?

Looking at the election-related discourse in America today, I’m unfortunately not seeing as much logic or reason out of the political establishment than 9-year-old me was able to muster 44 years ago.

Donald Trump and the Republican Party want me to know that Joe Biden has been “captured by the radical left.” Last time I checked, Biden was the candidate of the center-right Democratic Party. If there’s a left in American electoral politics, it’s the Green Party. If there’s a radical left, it’s the Libertarian Party. Biden, I’m told, would “de-fund” police and offer amnesty to millions of undocumented immigrants. Both of those are libertarian positions which he doesn’t, sadly, seem to actually hold.

Joe Biden and the Democratic Party want me to know that Donald Trump colluded with Vladimir Putin to rig the 2016 election (a claim for which no credible evidence has emerged after four years of investigations), is trying to do so again (ditto on the evidence), allowed COVID-19 to ravage the country (he thankfully has constitutionally limited powers to do much about that, but he’s exceeded those powers in the same ways, although not as much, as Biden promises to), and may be AKSHUALLY HITLERRR!

Even more unfortunately, I hear friends and relatives regurgitate both sets of nonsensical pablum as they metaphorically lean out the school bus window to yell “Vote for [insert name of terrible candidate here]!” And worst of all, THEIR school buses stop at the polling places and let them off to vote.

“Democracy,” H.L. Mencken wrote, “is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard.”

On the evidence, he wasn’t wrong. Of those Americans who bother to vote, 90% or more will probably vote for one of two circus clowns, for all the wrong reasons.

If you plan to vote this November, please consider growing up first.

Thomas L. Knapp (Twitter: @thomaslknapp) is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism (thegarrisoncenter.org). He lives and works in north central Florida.


Is Home Ownership Really the “American Dream?”

Free Stock Photo from Pexels
Free Stock Photo from Pexels

In 2016, then-presidential-candidate Donald Trump bemoaned the “lowest [US home ownership] rate in 51 years,” promising that “WE will bring back the ‘American Dream!'” In a 2019 “Memorandum on Federal Housing Finance Reform,” now-President Trump called on federal agencies to “make sustainable home ownership for American families our benchmark of success.”

Trump’s 2020 Democratic opponent, Joe Biden, pledges to “rebuild the middle class,” which he defines as “a value set which includes the ability to own your own home.” While his campaign platform also nods to tenant protections and affordable rental housing, it’s clear Biden agrees with former President Barack Obama that home ownership constitutes “the most tangible cornerstone that lies at the heart of the American Dream.”

Are they right? Is home ownership the embodiment of the “American Dream?” Are Trump and Biden trying, in their own ways, to deliver the goods for you? Or are they just beholden to special interests whose members make larger campaign contributions than you do — for example, realtors, developers, and mortgage lenders?

Maybe a little of both, but the latter is certainly a factor. It’s not obvious that home ownership is a good fit, or a wise investment, for everyone.

The case for home ownership includes things like building equity instead of flushing rent down the financial drain, and owning something that might (prior to the 2007 housing collapse, the conventional wisdom was “would”) appreciate in value.

Here’s the case for renting instead:

The average American moves 11.x times in his or her life. Given a life expectancy of 80 years, that’s a move every seven years or so — 23 years short of paying off a 30-year mortgage.

When we’re kids, we move where our parents go. As adults, we might move for school, for work, for marriage (or equivalent), after a divorce (or equivalent), into larger quarters when children come along, into smaller quarters when we retire … we’ve got plenty of reasons.

A renter is almost always within less than a year of fulfilling a lease agreement, and isn’t likely to lose much by kicking out of that agreement. Selling a home for enough to pay off the mortgage and perhaps pocket some money is risky, speculative, and far from time-certain.

Got a great job offer requiring a 200-mile move? Did triplets arrive when you were expecting (and had nursery space to accommodate) a single child? Divorcing under circumstances where splitting cash would entail less nastiness than splitting real estate? Is home ownership a net benefit or an anvil on your foot, holding you somewhere you no longer want to be?

And keep in mind that “owning” a home doesn’t eliminate rent. Even after the mortgage is paid off, a “homeowner” in most places pays rent to the government. It’s called “property tax,” but it’s rent — if you don’t pay, you’ll eventually be evicted.

If home ownership does suit you, that’s great. If not, keep in mind that politicians of both major parties want bigger campaign contributions and higher property tax takes, whether you truly benefit or not.

Thomas L. Knapp (Twitter: @thomaslknapp) is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism (thegarrisoncenter.org). He lives and works in north central Florida.


Supreme Court: Playing for Time vs. Advise and Consent

Inside the Supreme Court of the United States. Photo by Timothy R. Johnson and Jerry Goldman. Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported.
Inside the Supreme Court of the United States. Photo by Timothy R. Johnson and Jerry Goldman. Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported.

“The American people,” US Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said in 2016, “should have a voice in the selection of their next Supreme Court Justice. Therefore, this vacancy should not be filled until we have a new president.” McConnell took that position in response to President Barack Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland to replace the late Antonin Scalia.

While he subsequently offered other justifications, revolving around whether or not the same party controls both the Senate and the White House (“[s]ince the 1880s, no Senate has confirmed an opposite-party president’s Supreme Court nominee in a presidential election year”), the top political selling point of argument was clear:

With a presidential election less than a year away, better to await the voters’ decision on who should appoint a new member of the Supreme Court.

Now, with the death of  Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, McConnell’s political tune shifts its main melody to those other excuses. The new chorus: “President Trump’s nominee will receive a vote on the floor of the United States Senate.”

The Democrats have changed their tune too. They were all for a vote to confirm Merrick Garland in 2016. They’re dead set against a vote to confirm whomever President Donald Trump nominates in 2020.

Democratic arguments against a swift replacement for Ginsburg are pretty weak as well.

First, they say Ginsburg expressed a “final wish” that her replacement wait until after the election. That’s a strange one. In what universe do dying (or retiring) Supreme Court justices get to dictate the terms of their replacement?

Second, they raise the usual hue and cry: A Republican-appointed court might overturn Roe v. Wade. That claim ignores some inconvenient facts.

Such as that Roe v. Wade was written by a Republican-appointed justice. And that all five Republican-appointed justices on the Court at that time voted for it. And that half of the four Democrat-appointed justices voted against it. And that subsequent Republican-majority Courts have preserved it. Republican politicians talk a great anti-Roe game, but at the judicial level Republicans created Roe and Republicans have perpetuated Roe.

The first Supreme Court justice, John Jay, was nominated by President George Washington on September 24, 1789. He was confirmed by the US Senate two days later. Twelve years after that, the Senate dragged its feet for a whole week before confirming Chief Justice John Marshall.

These days, far more is both knowable and known about prospective Supreme Court nominees well in advance of their nominations. Yet the process has mutated from “advise and consent” to “multi-month political campaign.”

There’s no taking politics out of the matter, but the whole thing could be better handled with a White House policy of nominating replacements within seven days of a death or retirement, and a Senate rule requiring an up-or-down confirmation vote within seven days of nomination. Let the voters judge what was done, not who might do what.

Instead, the legacy of Ruth Bader Ginsburg is yet another bear-on-a-unicycle ring added to an already far too crazy 2020 political circus.

Thomas L. Knapp (Twitter: @thomaslknapp) is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism (thegarrisoncenter.org). He lives and works in north central Florida.