If the Republican National Convention was more of a wake than a nominating event, what then to make of the Democratic National Convention, which unfolds this week in Philadelphia?
The DNC will be an extended explanation of why Hillary Clinton, like her major-party counterpart Donald Trump, is unacceptable not simply to libertarians but to that plurality of Americans who define themselves as independent, centrist, moderate, or anything other than a dyed-in-the-wool partisan.
Trump made clear his authoritarianism in his acceptance speech in Cleveland, declaring he will be "our voice" and that he will singlehandedly renegotiate trade treaties and defense pacts and make America smell great again through endless "winning." The one upside in the speeches made on the last night of the RNC was the belated inclusion of gays and lesbians as part of GOP America, with the nominee himself, his daughter Ivanka, and billionaire Peter Thiel openly declaring that the full spectrum of sexual orientation and identity was welcome.
Trump, however, is hardly the only authoritarian in the presidential race. While different in flavor and expression, Hillary Clinton's vision of America similarly proceeds from a belief in her righteousness and untrammeled power and is similarly unbounded by constitutional limitations or pragmatic reality. Across issues such as free speech to foreign policy to economic regulation, Clinton is ready and willing to arrogate to her administration all sorts of power. In a country where 60 percent of us already believe the federal government has too much power, Clinton's approach is misguided, to say the least, and it helps explain her 56 percent unfavorability rating.
Here are some of the areas in which she is pushing for more control over aspects of all of our lives:
- Federal Spending. The Nobel Prize-winning economist Milton Friedman used to say that goverment spending is the ultimate measure of the size of government. That's because current or future taxpayers are ultimately on the hook for spending, whether it is paid for by borrowing or inflating the currency. The federal government is currently spending the equivalent of 22 percent of GDP, a figure that is well above the historical average of 20 percent between 1966 and 2015. Clinton's spending plan, as scored by the Committee on a Responsible Federal Budget, would jack that up to 22.7 percent. As important, Clinton's tax plan would raise revenues from 18 percent to 18.6 percent, meaning she wouldn't come close to stabilizing the national debt even as she increases taxes. Nowhere does she credibly pay for promised expansions in Social Security and free college tuition for students attending public colleges. First under George W. Bush and then under Barack Obama, the United States has been on a massive spending spree that has failed to grow the economy or expand opportunities. Clinton's response to this is to throw spending into sixth gear and hope for the best. It's not just libertarians who think that the government is too big and trying to do too many things. Gallup finds that 55 percent agree with the statement that "government is trying to do too many things that should be left to individuals and businesses."
- Foreign Policy and State Surveillance. As a senator from New York, Clinton voted to authorize war not just in Afghanistan but in Iraq, too, despite a less-than-compelling case for invading the latter country. She also supported extended occupations that have failed to accomplish anything other the near-complete destabilization of the entire Middle East and Central Asian regions. Incredibly, she still talks about the U.S. intervention in Libya—which she argued for forcefully as Secretary of State—as an example of "smart power." As historian Thaddeus Russell notes, Clinton is an unreconstructed Wilsonian interventionist who believes that the United States not only can make the world safe for democracy but has a moral duty to intervene. She is thus ideologically committed to interventionism regardless of consequences. Add to that her near-complete failure while serving as the nation's top diplomat (including a ludicrously botched "reset" with Russia) and her calls for increasing all manner of surveillance in the service of the global war on terror and you're looking at a huge increase in state power with little sense of balance or responsibility.
- Free Speech. If patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel, calling for censorship is a close runner-up. As Matt Welch catalogued exhaustively in the March cover story of Reason, Clinton has long proposed all sorts of limits on free and unfettered speech. From attacking violent video games and TV shows in the 1990s to castigating the Citizen's United decision, Clinton always comes down on the idea that free speech is a problem. Just last December, after the San Bernadino shooting, she had this to say:
"You're going to hear all of the usual complaints—you know, 'freedom of speech,' etc.," she said. "But if we truly are in a war against terrorism and we are truly looking for ways to shut off their funding, shut off the flow of foreign fighters, then we've got to shut off their means of communicating." This was no heat-of-the-moment hyperbole. Earlier that same day, the former secretary of state was even more explicit about what she would demand from American technology companies: "We're going to need help from Facebook and from YouTube and from Twitter," she declared on ABC's This Week, announcing a strategy of fighting terrorists "in the air," "on the ground," and "on the Internet." "They cannot permit the recruitment and the actual direction of attacks or the celebration of violence. They're going to have to help us take down these announcements and these appeals."
Trust in government is at historic lows, a trend that has been helped along by Clinton's own dissembling in various scandals, ranging from her falsely blaming the Benghazi attacks on a YouTube video to her false statements about her private email server. Every bit as much as Donald Trump, who also said he would shut down parts of the Internet in almost the same language as Clinton, the Democratic nominee sees controlling discourse as one of the perks of being president.
- Social Issues, Immigration, Gun Rights. There's no question that the Democratic Party, at least until very recently, has been far more friendly to gay rights than the Republicans. Clinton however supported the odious Defense of Marriage Act signed by her husband in the late 1990s, which was an attempt to forestall recognition of gay marriage. In fact, she only embraced marriage equality in 2013, in a conversion that is widely seen as political. Similarly, she is generally terrible on pot, calling for a rescheduling of marijuana but still predisposed against legalization. In 2011, she explained to a Mexican audience that she's against legalizing illicit drugs "because there's just too much money in it," betraying an utter lack of understanding of black-market economics and the havoc wreaked by prohibition. She campaigned for Senate as an immigration restrictionist and voted like one, causing pro-immigration progressives to conclude she "was missing in action in providing leadership on immigration, and was in fact counterproductive and offensive." Like most Americans, she supports abortion rights but is no fan of the Second Amendment. Apart from supporting a demonstrably ineffective assault-weapons ban, she has vowed to limit gun ownership regardless of Congress, tweeting last fall, "If Congress refuses to act to end this epidemic of gun violence, I'll take administrative action to do so." In short, Clinton is not particularly libertarian when it comes to social issues and is disinclined to limit her power to act regardless of Congress.
- Regulations, Trade, and the Sharing Economy. When it comes economic policy, Clinton is less bad than Bernie Sanders but it's a matter of degree, not kind: She favors raising the federal minimum wage to $12 compared to his $15. Across the board, she favors an activist role for Washington in regulating all aspects of the economy and voted for TARP bailouts without hesitation. Her opposition to world-enriching free trade deals (including NAFTA, CAFTA, and the Trans-Pacific Partnership) puts her at odds not just with a majority of Americans but 60 percent of Democratic and Democratic-leaning voters, who see trade deals as beneficial (among Republicans and Republican-leaning voters, just 40 percent think trade agreements are a good thing). Given her wariness to free markets, it's not surprising that Clinton is a critic of companies such as Uber and Airbnb, claiming that such companies are exploiting people by classifying "employees" as contractors. She has said she will "crack down on bosses who exploit employees by misclassifying them as contractors or even steal their wages," thus strangling one of the bright spots of the economy in the interest of preserving entrenched interests.
The acid test of whether Hillary Clinton deserves to be president is this: Ask her supporters to make a case for her that doesn't reference just how godawful Donald Trump is. I fully expect her to become the next president of the United States, but that doesn't mean she deserves to win. Like Trump, she is a backward-looking baby boomer with little grasp of the present, much less the future. In a world that is rapidly decentralizing power and knowledge, she remains locked into a 20th-century mind-set built on "binary choices" that is simply incapable of effectively governing. The result of a Clinton presidency will be a continued ruinous foreign policy, a smothering of economic growth, and restrictions on the personal freedoms that we take for granted.
Related: "Hillary Clinton vs. James Comey: Email Scandal Supercut"