People are forever asking me to classify myself. They want to fit me into a neat little box and say, “Boom. He’s a conservative.” Or “Boom, he’s a liberal.” Or a libertarian or an iconoclast or whatever it might be, typically in opposition to themselves. I don’t believe I’m receiving special treatment this way — I believe, rather that the request for classification says more about the person making the request than the person responding to it.

According to the site counter, this is exactly my 4,000th published post. So it seems a fine enough time to go back and remind folks that I resist that sort of classification. But it is also a fine enough time, approaching six years since I took up this hobby and shortly after migrating to a new home for it, to revisit the same issues I did before to drop a generalized sense of where I stand on things. And it’s never a hard sell to get a blogger to indulge in a bit of navel-gazing.

Back then, of course, I wrote about issues that were foremost on the minds of people I came across and things I read on the intertubes (before they were even jokingly called that). On June 17, 2005, Barack Obama was a state senator in Illinois who would have been playing at best second banana to Harold Ford, Jr. as the “bright young rising star of the Democratic Party.” Ford is out of elective office today and Obama is calling the shots at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. (Ford got the better end of that deal, if you ask me, but then again, I’m not a politician.) And on June 17, 2005, I was practicing law in Tennessee and responding to people who couldn’t quite figure me out based on the frames of the issues of the day. So I wrote a piece hoping to spell it all out very clearly.

In terms of its stated objective, I consider the piece more of a failure than a success. It did little to deflect ham-handed attempts to pigeonhole my place along the spectrum of politics; for most of those people who concerned themselves with such things they found it and subsequent posts congruent with a relatively decision to say, “Oh, okay, he’s a RINO.”

Regarding partisan ship, I said then that rampant and unchecked corruption within the Democratic party repelled me, and it still does. Republicans have had ample opportunity to vigorously attempt to out-compete with the Democrats in this regard, of course, and have met that challenge with gusto.

I said then that “I haven’t left the Republican party — the Republican party is leaving me. There are no credible voices on the political scene today espousing practical libertarianism.” That still seems true today. Rand Paul and Gary Johnson are coming the closest, and Ron Paul got more support and a lot more visibility than I would have thought in his 2008 Presidential bid. During its early period, the “Tea Party” movement seemed to draw from libertarian ideas but now appears to be drifting away from them. While the rhetoric, in broad terms, has become more common place, nearly all of the makers of public policy remain monolithically averse to libertarian ideas in practice. And I’m not a purist libertarian in the first place; I just like much of what libertarianism has to contribute to the discourse about what good public policy ought to be.

In 2005, it was all about the war in Iraq. I mused then that “The ultimate reason [for invading] was strategic – it provides the U.S. with a strategic location from which to readily project its force in an area of the world where that projection is anticipated to be needed in the future. So we’re never going to leave Iraq because the point of our going there was to stay.” Now, as we’re told the war is coming to an end and our troops are coming home, even some superficial digging around in the news reveals that “Starting in 2012, the US presence in Iraq will consist of up to 20,000 civilians at sites that include two embassy branches, two consulates, and three police training centers. The figures includes armed private security personnel, support staff and diplomats.” Ah, bittersweet vindication! 20,000 Americans with guns in Iraq taking their orders, ultimately, from Washington is a continuing and permanent presence, albeit one outsourced from the Army to private contractors.

I called myself an advocate of a robust military in 2005. I would continue to do so today were it not for my fear that a military as robust as we’ve enjoyed for the past several years is no longer economically sustainable.

Regarding taxes and the economy, particularly on the issue of bringing governmental finances under control, I found myself politically homeless in 2005 and I have yet to see that either party is today willing to align its policies with its rhetoric on those points. For my part, I have not changed on this issue, although I perceive that it has risen in priority for me as compared to other policy areas.

I said then that the proposition that we must choose between robust environmental safeguards and an expanding industrial economy was a false choice and I still believe that to be true.

I said then that the choice between strong civil liberties and effective national security was a false choice and I still believe that to be true.

I am still “pro-death”: in favor of abortion rights and in favor of capital punishment. Both should only be done after careful consideration, but the law should allow for both to occur in a meaningful way.

You may recall that in the mid-2000’s, there were anti-globalism riots at meetings of things like the WTO. I thought then, and I still think now, that increased global trade is critical to both the economic well-being of all industrialized nations and to maintaining a diplomatic environment of peace. There is nothing set in stone that says the United States and the United Kingdom have to be allies, for instance — but the strong economic and cultural ties between these two nations makes the idea of war between them virtually unthinkable. In fact, the same kinds of tying together is taking place with China even now, and the more globalized and integrated our economic and cultural relationship becomes with our apparently largest economic and military rival, the less likely that a new cold war (or worse, a hot one) will ever erupt between us. I like globalization. I still have no particular use for the United Nations, but it doesn’t seem to be doing a lot of harm even if at the same time it doesn’t seem to be doing much of importance.

My thoughts on education remain remarkably similar to what they were six years ago. I have perhaps conceded a greater importance to the study of the arts and non-standardizable subjects as I have acquired a significant number of friends who teach high school and junior high school, and I tend to stay silent when they gripe about the evils of standardized testing. But my basic thoughts on what good educational policy is and is not are largely what they were six years ago: the Federal government ought not to be a big player in the arena, there should be greater emphasis placed on written language skills, that religion should not be taught in science class, and vouchers are a moderately good idea but not a substitute for good policy.

I have grown even more entrenched in the opinion that the courts must play a significant role in formulating public policy. Experience over the past six years has shown, again and again, that the political branches of government at best pay lip service to the limits of power imposed on them by the Constitution and much more frequently see the civil liberties and freedom of American citizens as an obstacle to doing what they want to do. The changing winds of political fortune have done nothing to mitigate my deep and abiding conviction that the courts are our last and best guardians of individual rights, and I unabashedly approve of the fact that more judges do than do not rise to the occasion to actively protect those rights.

And I remain as firmly convinced as ever that my gay neighbors should have all the same rights and respect that I do, including most prominently the right to marry the people they love. I have written that the proudest day I have had as a member of the California bar was when my courts handed down The Marriage Cases, and it remains my hope that the courts will again vindicate this fundamental expression of individual rights. The fight for gay marriage is the fight for all of us to be more free, a fight to make sure that the government minds its own business and keeps its nose out of our private lives even when it complies with the will of the majority to intrude.

Maybe the fact that my preferences haven’t changed all that much is a sign of advancing age. But I think it’s more the case that by the time I settled on this constellation of policy preferences, this balance of liberal, conservative, and libertarian thought, I had pretty much thought it through and decided that I’d gotten it more or less right. I can still be convinced to change my mind about nearly any of these things, and I don’t want to adopt a fanatical attitude. But at the same time, I don’t think I can be fit neatly into any ideological stovepipe and I don’t have any particular discomfort because of that. Nor any inclination to try.

Burt Likko

Pseudonymous Portlander. Homebrewer. Atheist. Recovering litigator. Recovering Republican. Recovering Catholic. Recovering divorcé. Recovering Former Editor-in-Chief of Ordinary Times. House Likko's Words: Scite Verum. Colite Iusticia. Vivere Con Gaudium.


  1. I have perhaps conceded a greater importance to the study of the arts and non-standardizable subjects as I have acquired a significant number of friends who teach high school and junior high school

    I’d be interested in reading more about this… why in particular has the number of teacher friends bumped this up?

    • Social circumstances, more than anything else.

      I’ve made a lot of friends through freethought groups, maybe half of my social contacts. Back in Tennessee, the freethought group drew heavily from professors in Knoxville and research scientists in Oak Ridge. Here, the group seemed to have drawn its people from the high school and junior high schools.

      The other half, in both places, have been professional contacts. Those people tend to be lawyers, accountants, and real estate agents. I’m also fortunate (and somewhat exceptional, for suburban California) to know and socialize with my neighbors, who are mostly defense workers and government employees.

  2. According to the official media narrative, the Tea Party is the force behind recently rejected extensions of the USAPATRIOT Act. The libertarian Tea Party may still live.

    UNESCO World Heritage Sites are pretty cool in a PBS/NPR kind of way. As long as the UN globally fills similarly bland roles, there shouldn’t be any trouble in my opinion. I do think the UN could play a more active role in global environmental policy however.

  3. “I am still “pro-death”: in favor of abortion rights and in favor of capital punishment. Both should only be done after careful consideration, but the law should allow for both to occur in a meaningful way.”

    Your consistency is refreshing. Welcome.

  4. As Ronald Reagan said, a person who agrees with you 80% of the time is your friend and ally, not a 20% traitor. I’d disagree with a few points here and there, but if you and I were in Congress together, you’d probably be my closest ally, or maybe the one right after the Pauls.

    Anyway, you totally need a plant sprouting out of that inverted hat. The only question is — what species would it be?

      • A minor question. I seem to be getting moderation-halted on every comment here? Are the sub-blogs heavier moderated or am I just special?

        • That’s a technical glitch. The Ordinaries are working on solving that right now. For now, you’re not alone — even my comments are getting moderation-halted.

          This is the first sub-blog project they’re doing, and there are bound to be some speed bumps. Please bear with us.

  5. If I were feeling snarky I’d say you lost me a putting “credible libertarian” and “Rand Paul” in the same para. Oh wait. I did.

    But seriously. It’s nice to have a brain dump like this once in a while to realign perspectives.

  6. Thank you for the post. I followed through it in much the same way I continually revisit where I am on the (fill in the blank) spectrum. You listed most of the issues that are important to me in the political arena and at each one I had to pause to determine where I was at at this moment. So your post was a check list for me but your thoughts added to the knowledge base that I use to determine where I’m at. My position FWIW is based on the individual issue at hand. I’m ‘pro death’ as you put it . But, I am opposed to the death penalty because the system is terribly flawed. There are crimes so heinous that death is obligatory so long as we are are ABSOLUTELY sure of guilt. Since that absolute will be rarely be reached, life without parole is the next worst punishment I can think of. Abortion is a personal choice that the government should have no interest in. The religionists need to be waved away and let the mother decide. A zygote, a collection of undifferentiated cells , is not in anyway a human being. Even the ‘lifers’ refer to “potential” human life.
    ‘Nuff said. Thanks for offering a map to explore. I look forward to more.

  7. United Nations: I am mildly against it. It’s a largely useless, hugely corrupt, symbolically overimportant, and fortunately mostly harmless waste of diplomatic energy. A nice idea, but a tremendously ineffective institution. I guess that puts me closer to the Republican school of thought than the Democrats’…

    Burt, I was struck by your comments on the UN. To me, saying you’re mildly against the UN is like saying you’re mildly against penicillin. Aside from providing a framework for collective security, coordinating humanitarian work, and serving as a reservoir of expertise for problems from HIV/AIDS to land mine removal, the most important role of the UN is narrowing the trust deficit amongst nations. Just one example, UN Secretary-General U Thant’s acting as an intermediary (and guarantor of sorts) between the US and USSR during the Cuban Missile Crisis. JFK later remarked, “U Thant has put the world deeply in his debt.” Then-US Ambassador to the UN testified,
    “At a critical moment — when the nuclear powers seemed set on a collision course — the secretary-general’s intervention led to the diversion of the Soviet ships headed for Cuba and interception by our Navy. This was the indispensable first step in the peaceful resolution of the Cuban crisis.” (Cuban Missile Crisis Resolved Dorn & Pauk)

    The UN attempts neutrality in a world where nations nurse post-colonial grievances and scars of past ethno-racial conflict, or plain old irredentist disputes. I don’t see how a fractious world of (often self-centered) nations manages conflicts, or the global commons, without the UN. What institution could handle these responsibilities? What institution has the heft to deal with all the thankless diplomatic spadework of global governance? Neutral countries like Switzerland are handy, but they aren’t going to spend billions tackling collective action problems of global scope.

    Which is not to say the UN successfully tackles all the problems that arrive at its inbox. Having seen the UN human rights apparatus up close, I can say this point isn’t hard to acknowledge. And like other big organizations the UN suffers from bureaucratic pathologies, sometimes with tragic consequences for awfully vulnerable people. Nonetheless, I’d say UN Secretary-General Dag Hammerskjold had it about right when he commented that the UN was “not created in order to bring us to heaven, but in order to save us from hell.”

    “A nice idea”, as you wrote. I’d add, an absolutely indispensable institution.

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