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The ‘Liberaltarianist’ Folly

Like it or not, libertarian interests are still best served by the Republican Party.

by
Stephen Green

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February 19, 2009 - 12:36 am
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The talk lately has been liberaltarianism — the idea that libertarians (after 40 years of broken promises from Republicans) and liberals should combine in the Democratic Party to further our goals. The best summation of what I call “the liberaltarianist folly” comes from George Mason University School of Law Assistant Professor Ilya Somin, who pines:

Although I wish things were different, I think that my 2006 reasons for skepticism are more valid today than they were back then. The financial crisis/recession has persuaded most liberal intellectuals that our current problems are the result of insufficient government and have made it far more difficult to persuade them to take arguments against massive expansions of government seriously (to say nothing of arguments for its radical reduction.) I think that claims that the financial crisis discredits libertarianism are seriously flawed. But most liberals clearly believe otherwise.

That’s the rub, isn’t it? The Democratic instinct is almost always for bigger, more intrusive, more meddlesome, more controlling, more centralized, more top-down government. Now, let’s get specific with the big issues of the day.

The Iraq War

I know, I know. The war is basically over, and we knocked their chins in the dirt — first Saddam’s, then al Qaeda’s. But let’s be honest here: the Iraq War is pretty much the reason libertarians flirted with the Democratic Party, and half explains Ron Paul’s rise to prominence during the Republican primaries. Big-L Libertarians, and lots of the small-l variety, too, are staunch isolationists. Some might quibble with that particular word, but it remains an effectively accurate descriptor. While there’s no way to test this absent the Iraq War, I doubt anyone would be having this discussion, at least not loudly enough to notice.

The Afghan War

Seriously. There’s a wing of libertarianism so completely isolationist, it was against even toppling the Taliban in direct retaliation for 9/11. Those people probably do belong with the Blame America First, Last, and Always crowd on the far left of the Democratic Party.

Entitlement Reform

Hidden deep in the Pork Package was a provision to effectively roll back the 1996 welfare reform act. Journalist Mickey Kaus says it makes Democrats “seem determined to reinstate dependency.” That’s what Democrats accomplished after being in power three whole weeks. On this issue, the debate — denied completely in the Capitol building by Pelosi and Reid — is closed.

Social Issues

Liberaltarianism has seemingly better footing here. Abortion, free speech, the drug war — liberalism and libertarianism would just seem to mesh better. Think again.

Let’s get the same-sex marriage issue out of the way first. When even California passes Proposition 8 — due to overwhelming Democratic turnout — then today is not the day to wage that battle.

The goalposts on abortion restrictions haven’t moved all that much back toward the right since Roe v Wade. And if four years of Republican domination of Washington, including an evangelical president, couldn’t get new, severe restrictions placed on abortion, then we can consider this issue effectively dead for the foreseeable future. It remains, however, a hot button for politicians to push (on both sides) to scare people into the voting booths. Get used to it; that’s not going to change.

A few Democrats seem willing to ease up on the drug war, but most aren’t. This isn’t very different from the situation on the Republican side, although Democrats can probably afford to be more outspoken on this issue. Libertarians should be making the case that if you want to end a war, which really does imprison thousands upon thousands of non-violent “offenders” while violating the civil rights of all Americans, then repeal the drug laws. However, too many of us are still too wrapped up in outdated (and wrongheaded, if you ask me) opposition to the terror war. And besides, our arguments fall mostly on deaf ears. This issue is a wash.

Free speech? Are you kidding me? Republicans are the only party even somewhat in favor of commercial free speech. Let’s not even get started on campus speech codes and other PC nonsense, which is owned almost exclusively by the left. Political free speech, too, is endangered as more and more Democrats come out in favor of reasserting the so-called Fairness Doctrine. Sure, only Democrats are likely to find you a constitutional right to receive a lap dance — and there’s nothing wrong with that. But for the kind of speech that really counts, the Republican Party remains by far your safer bet.

And, if we may be outspokenly honest — if not outright Machiavellian here — the evangelical wing has run the Republican Party into the ground over the last two election cycles. The coming years might be the best time since the Reagan Revolution for small government types to wrest back control of the party.

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