Goofiness is in the Eye of the Beholder

Tom Smith: “I cannot resist observing that Posner’s lament that conservatives have gone all goofy comes from the guy who proposed setting up a free market in babies. My point is not so much that a free market in babies would be a bad idea, though I do think it would present many practical and some moral difficulties. Rather it is that often goofiness is in the eye of the beholder.”

I find Posner’s claim that he’s “become less conservative since the Republican Party started becoming goofy” strange, for two reasons. First, he claims to still admire Ronald Reagan and Milton Friedman. What policies is the modern conservative movement, or the modern Republican Party, pursuing that Reagan wouldn’t endorse? None that I can think of, except perhaps a tougher line on immigration. And the four GOP presidential nominees since Reagan have all been substantially less conservative than he was, suggesting that if Posner doesn’t like the modern GOP, he should become more conservative. And what economic policies is the GOP endorsing that would offend Milton Friedman for being too conservative? Friedman would surely think that Paul Ryan’s budget plan doesn’t go nearly far enough in cutting federal spending.

The second oddity is that the purported goofiness of the modern GOP, if it is such, would have any effect on his own ideas. I’ve certainly found occasion to be embarrassed to call myself a libertarian because of the antics of other libertarians, but my own substantive views never changed because of that, and I don’t see why they would.

What Posner almost seems to be saying is that he finds the GOP to be goofy, and if he is identified in the public mind as a conservative, some of that goofiness will be attributed to him, and affect his own reputation. So he publicly espouses policies that will separate him in the public mind from the GOP’s goofiness, thus preserving his own reputation.

Perhaps this isn’t terribly surprising from a guy who is unusually interested in reputation and influence (see his Cardozo: A Study in Reputation and Public Intellectuals). But I find it a bit, well, goofy.