Politics & Media
Aug 23, 2023, 05:57AM

Bourgeois Bro-Mides

Time to debate Vivek and vimana, er, UFOs.

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I don’t vote anymore, nor should you, but ahead of this week’s Republican Party presidential primary debate, I can’t help thinking that Trump’s absence from this particular GOP stage offers an opportunity to imagine a ticket composed of two candidates who will be present (not prepping for an appearance in a Fulton County jail): Vivek Ramaswamy and Nikki Haley.

They may sound like a far-fetched strategy now, but the Trump campaign could implode under legal pressures and the DeSantis campaign could implode under the pressure of merely, well, campaigning. Ramaswamy-Haley could then yield benefits on multiple levels.

First, it’d steer right and left alike away from the destructive assumption that conservatives must be primarily the Christian, white party. Ramaswamy is Hindu (whereas Haley, also of Indian descent, is Christian). More important from my perspective, he’s a former Ivy League libertarian, and I want people more focused on markets, budget cuts, and deregulation than on conflict-fueling ethnic and tribal calculations. The left would tie itself into knots trying to depict Ramaswamy and Haley as “white supremacists,” since that is the left’s only play, and it’d be educational to behold.

Pardon me: the left has one other play, which would be claiming Haley hates women.

Another coalition-building aspect of this hypothetical team, though, would be the fact that Ramaswamy nowadays sounds “more Trump than Trump,” which means that he could plausibly campaign as the natural heir to the party’s recent populism, bringing us at least closer to the market-based anarchism America really needs.

If Ramaswamy isn’t now hopelessly alienated from Haley, who loves the military and has criticized him for wanting to cut aid to Israel along with everything else, putting her in the veep slot could help keep establishment Republicans onboard in much the same way Trump’s choice of Mike Pence kept most of the boring old pro-Pentagon types on team Trump in 2016.

If Ramaswamy’s telling the truth about right-wing Newsmax wanting him to pay for positive coverage, he’s also willing to criticize even the sympathetic press and bite the hand that feeds (or at least the hand that demands snacks while offering to pet), which is great. He’s smart enough to get away with it, and most politicians aren’t.

Ramaswamy-Haley wouldn’t be perfect. No government at all is a better first step. But that ticket might be a pleasant alternative to four more years of the instability and egomania of Trump. Trump’s ego makes one pine for the comparatively serene and philosophical egoism of Ayn Rand, which had more in common with 18th-century “enlightened self-interest” ideals than with the schoolyard bully attitudes recently on display on the right.

Don’t get me wrong. I understand how a decade or so of woke hypersensitivity created the far right’s retaliatory current obsession with displays, theories, and podcasts of manliness. It didn’t help that the older conservative establishment, faced with the leftist threat, seemed to offer only an effete, feeble, more church-going narcissism of its own: David Brooks, years ago an emblem of that establishment, has a new book out in two months with the Stuart Smalley-like, navel-gazing title How to Know a Person: The Art of Seeing Others Deeply and Being Deeply Seen. Is it any wonder the millennials looked at conservatism as it was and ended up fantasizing about becoming Spartan warriors instead?

But thinking like an ancient warlord or a bromide-spewing wrestling champion—or surly, paranoid real estate mogul—really isn’t going to help you cope with nuanced philosophy or policy disputes, bro. You might genuinely gain more conservative insights from seeing Barbie—which was, after all, written and directed by Greta Gerwig, a sometime colleague of conservative filmmaker Whit Stillman, and acknowledges the risks of thinking you can have it all—than from trying to turn contemporary politics into Zack Snyder and Frank Miller’s beautiful but barbaric film 300.

For a truly thoughtful debate, though, on Thursday the 31st, one week after the GOP debate, see a UFO debate—or a debate on vimanas, as ancient Hindu texts put it when describing the flying chariots of the gods. I’ve taken more interest in the topic lately, as a wave of more-credible military witnesses and congressional witnesses has emerged, but I haven’t forgotten my skeptical roots, and that night at eight p.m. at the Williams Center at 1 Williams Plaza in easily-accessible Rutherford, New Jersey (with audio available sometime later online), I’ll make the case for staying skeptical about alien visitations even amidst the current hubbub, whereas comedian Sean Donnelly will argue for belief, and our libertarian comedian friend Lou Perez will moderate as part of his ongoing discussion series The Wrong Take. Cheap tickets are here.

Though I’ll argue for hewing to high standards of evidence, I hope to avoid falling into the trap that I think Wall Street Journal features editor Adam Kirsch did recently in a piece explaining the reasons for continued skepticism on UFOs. Or maybe the problem wasn’t Kirsch but people even higher up the editorial food chain at The Wall Street Journal. The Journal knows its audience isn’t across-the-board skeptical but rather merely conservative: skeptical about new or “weird” things yet comfortable giving a pass to the old, established things.

Thus, even as Kirsch ably invoked skeptical arguments from philosophers such as David Hume and scientists such as Carl Sagan, he managed to carve out artfully ambiguous pockets of non-judgmental tolerance for religious beliefs, as if rational arguments and the need for solid evidence suddenly stop at the church door. Such selective, audience-pleasing timidity is perfectly representative of not just Wall Street Journal editorial policies but old-school, country-club conservative shallow-thinking in general.

It’s the this-far-but-not-too-far attitude that leads to decrying violence while blindly trusting cops and soldiers, denouncing healthcare nannies but wanting the pot-smokers hauled back into jail in Manhattan, demanding deregulation but freaking out if people disregard borders. Conservatism’s old half-measures are what necessitated radicals like Ramaswamy (in attitude, at least, even if he barely deviates from the old guard’s policy checklist in practice).

By contrast, I promise that even if I win the argument about UFOs next week, I’ll be rooting for the people on the fringe making strange, bold observations and not the bureaucrats crafting the latest cautious, question-dodging, budget-protecting Pentagon statement about it all. The truth owes no deference to either macho loner would-be gurus or cold military-industrial bureaucracies—nor to faith. Maybe that sentence implies getting rid of all three legs of the conservative “stool” as traditionally understood.

But debate over economics and how to preserve property rights would likely endure, as will arguments about weird lights in the sky. I hope for intellectual progress on both fronts, in the next two weeks if we’re lucky, sometime in the centuries ahead if things continue plodding along as usual.

—Todd Seavey is the author of Libertarianism for Beginners and is on X at @ToddSeavey


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