Skip to comments.The Neglect Of Libertarians
Posted on 10/27/2006 11:13:01 PM PDT by LibertarianInExile
The vaunted ability of the Republican Party to get out the vote where it really matters is about to be tested. If the party can survive the midterm elections without heavy losses (especially if it retains control of the House) despite the current abysmal poll ratings for the Bush administration and the congressional leadership, then its strategy of attending to its loyalist base will be vindicated. If the party gets the drubbing that Iraq, Hurricane Katrina, assorted congressional scandals, and those awful poll numbers all point to, then the message for 2008 will be different: Republicans must look beyond that loyalist base and care more, as they used to, about support from uncommitted voters.
In the view of a lot of loosely attached conservatives, that would be a very good thing. The party needs a salutary shock, they say -- and, aside from that, divided government is probably a good thing in its own right. But suppose this wish is about to come true. Suppose the uncommitted voters are about to assert themselves. What will they actually be saying? What kind of policies, what kind of Republican Party, would appeal to these drifting, side-switching types? Is there any kind of ideological coherence or consistency in that neglected political zone -- or is it just a matter of "We're sick of this lot, so let's have a change."
One answer, so I read, is that an important part of the uncommitted vote has "liberal" values in the traditional English sense of that term. In the United States such people have to be called "libertarians" or "classical liberals" -- words uncommon in current political discourse, which is revealing in itself. These are citizens who favor limited government in economic affairs (unlike the Democratic base) but also in social and cultural matters (unlike the Republican base). They are instinctively pro-market, wary of big government, and no more than moderately egalitarian, which inclines them to vote Republican -- or it used to, anyway, when Republicans cared about curbing public spending. But at the same time, they are offended by what happens when politics meets evangelical religion. They take a generally permissive view of private morality, are not much devoted to tradition, and are broadly welcoming of technological and cultural innovation, rather than anxious about it. These views incline them to vote Democratic.
Two new books on what has gone wrong with the Republican Party in the past six years emphasize this neglect of the libertarians. In The Elephant in the Room: Evangelicals, Libertarians, and the Battle to Control the Republican Party, Ryan Sager, a New York Post columnist, argues that the modern party, at its most successful, was an alliance of social conservatives from the South and libertarians from the West. During the presidency of George W. Bush, social conservatives and evangelical Christians gained control; their classical liberal partners were pushed aside, and then out. To the extent that this was a deliberate strategy, it was, in Sager's view, wrong. It is better for the party to nurture a broad base rather than a narrow base, he argues, even allowing for the fact that the narrower base is more energized. Also, it just so happens, the policies favored by a libertarian Republican government would be more to his liking than the policies supported by a socially conservative one.
Andrew Sullivan, a leading commentator and blogger, and a Catholic conservative as well, makes a related argument in The Conservative Soul: How We Lost It, How to Get It Back. More concerned about the merits of the issues than with political strategy, he laments the capture of the Republican Party by religiously inspired social conservatives because it led the administration to support, in his view, bad policies -- and often, as he argues, to execute good policies incompetently. Sullivan's kind of conservatives are in favor of fiscal restraint, for instance, because they support limited government. The president's kind of Republicans disagree. And, not coincidentally, Sullivan's kind of conservatives are anti-fundamentalist, as well -- skeptics by temperament, therefore less inclined to undertake hubristic visionary enterprises, and more attentive to the humdrum details of execution.
The question is, how much of the moving middle (if it is a "middle") does this libertarian tendency really occupy? Are there as many libertarians as muddle-headed vacillators? Do they outnumber switchers who vote for personalities, not policies? A new study by David Boaz and David Kirby for the Cato Institute (a think tank dedicated to the classical liberal cause) says that the libertarian vote is big enough to be worth capturing. Indeed, the authors say, it is capable of swinging elections.
Boaz and Kirby use three questions to screen data from recent Gallup polls, and classify respondents according to basic ideology.
Boaz and Kirby deem respondents who said "government is trying to do too many things," "government should not favor any particular set of values," and "federal government has too much power" as libertarian. The percentages were 9 percent in 2002, 11 percent in 2003, 9 percent in 2004, and 13 percent in 2005. The authors next point out that the libertarian vote shifted a lot between 2000 and 2004: Libertarians voted 72 percent to 20 percent for Bush over Al Gore, but only 59 percent to 38 percent for Bush over John Kerry. Congressional voting showed a similar pattern, they say. In other words, libertarians are (a) ideologically consistent, and (b) swing voters. "At some 13 percent of the electorate, [the libertarian vote] is sizable enough to swing elections. Pollsters, political strategists, candidates, and the media should take note of it."
My own answers to the three questions put me in the libertarian camp, by the way, so I would love Boaz and Kirby to be correct. But you have to wonder. The polling analysis that so pleases them leaves me feeling a bit lonely. Can it be right that barely 10 percent of respondents give what I would have regarded as characteristically American answers to the three questions? (I say that as a Brit. I also find myself wondering whether there are more libertarians in Britain -- or in France, for heaven's sake -- than America's paltry one in 10.)
And how much effort are these voters worth? Although it is true that the libertarian vote is up for grabs, in other ways it is a tactically unappealing target, because it will always be up for grabs. With a social conservative, or an anti-market statist, you know where you are. It is worth investing in those kinds of voters -- not in changing their minds, of course, because you cannot do that, but in persuading them that you have moved to their side. But you will never turn a libertarian into a loyalist of any party.
That is not all. Because they are skeptical not just about government but also about politics and the people who devote their lives to it, libertarians may be disinclined to get out and vote. The commentators who have recently been arguing for divided government, saying that it is better to have a weak, do-little government than a government, whether Left or Right, with the ambition and the capacity to do lots of big things, certainly have a point. But unfortunately that temperament is close to the one that wearily says, "I cannot be bothered and want nothing to do with this process." Disenchanted and few in number: Why spend limited resources on reaching them? Libertarians are disenfranchised for a reason.
The American idea -- expressed in the Declaration of Independence and in the Constitution -- is quintessentially a classical liberal idea. It is all there: Limited government; checks and balances; civil liberty and economic liberty. Libertarians won those arguments, but they have been on the losing side for about the last 70 years.
Today's main political battle is between those who want to run the economy from Washington and those who want to dictate the country's morals from Washington. (George Bush's Republican Party apparently wants to do both.) And we libertarians should not delude ourselves: If this is true, it is not because politics is letting people down but because most Americans feel comfortable in one or the other of those camps. As long as only one in 10 people reject both of those ideas, the choices facing the electorate will continue to be about as inspiring as the choice that presents itself on November 7.
Ping for later.
The author is about half libertarian in my opinion.
I have libertarian tendencies, but fortunately, my conservatism keeps them in check.
I would like to edit my fourth post. This guy is an idiot.
Having excitedly looked into the libertarians in 1974, I still think a workable definition is, that they are liberals that realized they were conservative but can't bring themselves to say it (or join those holy rollers), so they find the middle ground, called libertarian, which means "to the right of the left".
"I would like to edit my fourth post. This guy is an idiot."
Elaborate, please. I might agree--but I don't know where you find him so off-putting.
For the life of me, I don't know why the libertarians don't just rally behind some of their party powerhouses...preferably one that's alive.
I can't get past the first paragraph. You post it, you show me...
No borders, legalized drug zombies, see no evil, hear no evil,..zzz
What's inaccurate about that first paragraph?
The fact that you ask me that is enough. Would you like to talk about substance(reality) now?
"If this is true, it is not because politics is letting people down but because most Americans feel comfortable in one or the other of those camps. As long as only one in 10 people reject both of those ideas, the choices facing the electorate will continue to be about as inspiring as the choice that presents itself on November 7."
Darned Americans, we will never be able to get it right as long as those people are allowed to stand between us and our vision.
All 450,000+/- nationwide?
This is not libertarian.
It seemed to me a fairly accurate assessment of the negatives that are regularly arrayed against the GOP. You can't even get through a reasonable discussion of the GOP's weaknesses? You found the mere mention of the topics somehow verboten? You have got to cut back on the koolaid.
Really? Then share with us some of your wisdom.
"All 450,000+/- nationwide?"
Note small "l," for which author asserts the numbers are different. Now feel free to read the article.
"This is not libertarian."
How would you know, having read no further than the first paragraph?
And no, I'm not a Libertarian.
So what is your suggestion for the GOP's weaknesses? Demand open borders and drug legalization? I'm sure that will go over will with the voting public.
As long as the libertarian party, and it's candidates, talk about "stopping the flow of human capital" and against anything to secure this nation's land borders, I can not vote for any one of them and I certainly don't think the republican party needs to move any more in that direction.
Thanx. I'm relaxxxxxxxxxxed.
The points where libertarians diverge from other Conservatives and GOPers are sticking points that would drive the majority of non-libertarians away from the GOP, if the GOP caved on them.
Where did my 'suggestion' come into it, and wtf is wrong with you that you can't have a reasonable discussion of the article? It's simply an interesting article as to the utility of bothering with libertarian votes post-2006. It isn't even particular FOR the GOP going after those voters. I don't care how the GOP views its negatives, but they are those things going into this election, and if the GOP loses, it's going to be useful for it to consider WHY--which is why all the premortem talk--and that pre-2008 correction will be important to assessing which direction the GOP is going in the long run. I fail to see what my opinion of drug legalization or open borders have to do with it, but to put it bluntly (pun intended) if the former were initiated, the latter would be less of a problem, and were I setting the policy personally, I would mine the entire Mexican-American border 500 yards deep and make any wannabe immigrants take planes here. But drug legalization isn't the first priority I'd have were I running the show--it'd be securing the borders.
"As long as the libertarian party, and it's candidates, talk about "stopping the flow of human capital" and against anything to secure this nation's land borders, I can not vote for any one of them and I certainly don't think the republican party needs to move any more in that direction."
Some of us agree with you there, and think there needs to be a party that is both pro-liberty AND pro-border control. Ron Paul seems to actually be for controlling the borders first, as does Neal Boortz. Both are libertarians (perhaps Paul even considers himself Libertarian--I am not one myself, and never have been). But the GOP does need to move in the direction of the LP insofar as its view of limited government, and instead, it's moved during the Bush administration to outright acceptance of the Dept of Education and other unConstitutional federal actors.
I considered myself libertarian. You encouraged me to change my mind.
I don't see your point, once again.
The most glaringly incorrect assumption of this article lies in the definition of what a libertarian is. The three questions that define whether or not one is a libertarian are WAY too general, and I can see where members of either the Republican or Rat party could answer as if they were this author's definition of a libertarian. Try to define a libertarian, then try to catch a will-o' wisp. I think a few more than three questions is needed here.
I am through trading posts with you, and the only reason I responded above was to ensure that your statement was not without a reasonable, cogent reply, after my prior post was removed (erroneously, I am sure). Good day to you!
Sounds to me like this guy is trying to say "libertarian = liberal", or so it seems. I don't know why, but libertarians seem to me at least, to be, well, kooks. On the news up here in Anchorage, they showed highlights from a local political debate, and the Libertarian rep was dressed up like Che Guevara or something; in camo. He looked like he was gonna pump the 'afro' fist in the air and start chanting 'Down with the man!' or something similar. Apparently, he even said that voting for him or the Green party candidate was a waste and folks would be better off voting for the Democrat senator on the ballot. That sure doesn't sound too "libertarian", but it sure does sound pretty "liberal".
Libertarians just come off as socialist anarchist "legalize everything" types, the sort of folk who'd be running around with a bandana over the face as they do the "WTO Protest" dance for the TV cameras. Sorry, I'm sure most of that is totally wrong, but perception works that way, it isn't bound by truth.
"The most glaringly incorrect assumption of this article lies in the definition of what a libertarian is. The three questions that define whether or not one is a libertarian are WAY too general, and I can see where members of either the Republican or Rat party could answer as if they were this author's definition of a libertarian. Try to define a libertarian, then try to catch a will-o' wisp. I think a few more than three questions is needed here."
Certainly, but there is a degree of clarity necessary for pollsters that must also be somewhat abbreviated, since time is money for these folks. Do you disagree with these questions as a quick way to assess LIKELY libertarians, at least, taken as a whole? It's certainly better than any self-identification, especially with 'conservatives' like Harry Reid out there, and 'libertarians' like Bill Maher.
"Libertarians just come off as socialist anarchist "legalize everything" types, the sort of folk who'd be running around with a bandana over the face as they do the "WTO Protest" dance for the TV cameras. Sorry, I'm sure most of that is totally wrong, but perception works that way, it isn't bound by truth."
I don't think it's difficult to see the LP that way given the folks running that circus, but there are plenty of small 'l' libertarians that are quite respectable. The Cato Institute is a fine example, though I disagree with some of their policy views. Neal Boortz and Ron Paul are also generally pretty fair Constitutionalists, though some will disagree with the latter's views on the WoT (including me).
If Republicans lose power in Washington this election it will be a repudiation of the theocratic right by traditional conservatives.
The theocratic right believes that salvation can be dispensed from Washington D.C. by (heh heh) pious politicians. To me this fact alone shows a serious disconnect from reality on their part and a rejection of the very dogma of Christianity itself.
"The priesthood have, in all ancient nations, nearly monopolized learning. And ever since the Reformation, when or where has existed a Protestant or dissenting sect who would tolerate A FREE INQUIRY? The blackest billingsgate, the most ungentlemanly insolence, the most yahooish brutality, is patiently endured, countenanced, propagated, and applauded. But touch a solemn truth in collision with a dogma of a sect, though capable of the clearest proof, and you will find you have disturbed a nest, and the hornets will swarm about your eyes and hand, and fly into your face and eyes."
John Adams - letter to John Taylor
Beware of the self rightous hornets who post here.
This would be a great strategy if it did not drive off the 25% to 35% of the voters who are social conservatives. Legal marijuana, celebrating homosexuality, and abortion on demand are non-starters there.
Another problem with this analysis is that the notion that homosexual marriage and abortion represents government that does not take sides in values is nonsense.
Maybe there just isn't a coalition to be had. Libertarians will be deeply unhappy with either coalition, although society won't fall apart as quickly if they side with Republicans. It's gone if they side with dems.
Great choice for a libertarian...between a socialist democracy with democrats or a fascist theocracy with Republicans.
Another false statement in the article. Social conservatives are mostly interested in getting the federal government out of morality issues (there are some exceptions to that) and returning it to where it belongs--the states. Roe and Lawrence v. Texas and the silly establishment clause cases represent the federal government taking sides on morality issues. States are no longer allowed to make decisions in these regards.
So it is the left and the libertarians that seek overweening federal interference in issues of morality. Roe, for example, represents the moral judgment by the federal judiciary that abortion is so good that the States should not be able to prohibit it under any circumstances. Anyone who claims they don't see that as the federal government taking sides in moral issues is lying to themselves or to someone else.
The argument to the contrary in the article is pure spin--unless you think legislation from the FEDERAL bench imposing one moral scheme on the States as opposed to another moral scheme on the states is not FEDERAL action.
Were these decisions discarded, you would see almost no political action from the social conservatives on these issues because the push on these issues would be almost entirely at the state level.
I'm not sure any strategy was laid out here. The article seemed to me simply to be exploring where the GOP should go vis-a-vis libertarians. Unfortunately, that is a large part of why the libertarian wing is 'neglected.' We don't vote GOP because of those issues (nor would any libertarian vote to 'celebrate homosexuality,' that I know of)--but we expect that on other issues (say, balancing the budget), we'll get at least lip service. We don't even get that any more. It's grown tiresome expecting limited government from a party that can't even decide if it wants us around.
"Another problem with this analysis is that the notion that homosexual marriage and abortion represents government that does not take sides in values is nonsense."
Overturning Roe and sending abortion back to the states would mean the federal government doesn't take a particular side in values, and this libertarian is for that. But homosexual marriage is the likely result of government intrusion into social policy for the end of 'doing good' by promoting stable social structures, and the federal government subsidizing it to do MORE 'good.' It will be difficult to make the case against gay marriage without further undermining the case for government involvement in marriage. I am one of the few who will say outright that it was a mistake for the government, especially the federal government, to be involved with marriage in the first place. What could be more ridiculously unConstitutional than federal government involvement in such a personal matter? History is turning into a millstone in this issue, which is really a minor one anyway EXCEPT to social conservatives--NOT libertarians, who I doubt turn out to vote on the basis of such an issue.
"Maybe there just isn't a coalition to be had. Libertarians will be deeply unhappy with either coalition, although society won't fall apart as quickly if they side with Republicans. It's gone if they side with dems."
I think it's gone in 2008 anyway. I think the GOP will probably fracture depending upon the nominee one way or the other. I don't think many social conservatives will be acceptable to the RNC types; lefty RNC types won't be palatable to the social conservatives. Libertarians will, as usual, not be part of either crowd except on the fringes, and I don't think it'll make much difference. Not that the Rats will capitalize on this, with Hillary running anti-gay and pro-war. That party will have its own mess to deal with.
My, isn't that dramatic?
But the choice you pose is false. Down the liberal path lies totalitarianism--maybe a kinder, gentler nanny kind of totalitarianism. But totalitarianism.
Down the conservative path lies a democratic state that retains some notions of limited government but in which you can't light up a joint on the street or have abortion on demand in some states or marry a man if you are a man. Remember, all of those policies you think comprise a fascist theocracy have been voted in by large majorities in most states. Last time I checked, votes happen in democracies, not fascist states.
With all due respect, the country the conservative path describes is the US for its first 150 years--we managed to be a successful Republic (not a fascist theocracy) for many years without the blessings of abortion on demand or blissfully married moustaches.
So unless you really think the first 150 years of our republic were a fascist theocracy designed by our founding fathers, your drama about a fascist theocracy is, well, drama.
"Were these decisions discarded, you would see almost no political action from the social conservatives on these issues because the push on these issues would be almost entirely at the state level."
Doubtful. I have been discussing the issue Frist just snuck in on internet sports betting, and the FDA would still have to approve the morning-after abortion pill. As long as the fed is leviathan, the social conservative wing will certainly have to deal with its power, and some will be seduced by it. More already have been sucked into social tinkering than the social conservative wing would like to admit. Certainly, that is the problem with the libertarians who have signed on with the Lawrence debacle and the Roe nightmare.
But I think we agree more than we disagree here. I'm not arguing that those who federalize rights willy-nilly are doing so legitimately. I have been one of the anti-incorporation folks here, as a states-rights supporter.
This is one of the great delusions of libertarians these days. Somehow, you'se guys think, against all evidence, that Christian Conservatives are in favor of lots of government spending and that Christian Conservatives have forced the administration to spend a bunch of money.
George Bush is in favor of excessive federal spending. Enough R senators are in favor of it. But those senators are, by and large, the RINO's, not the Christian Conservatives. When those Senators and Congressmen team with the dems, there's a clear majority for a whoppee good time spending money and no president to mind the store.
I know a whole lot of Christian Conservatives and, to a man, they are annoyed by what has happened in Washington spending-wise. Their annoyance in that regard will be the main reason we lose this year, if we lose.
Blaming excessive spending on the Christian Conservatives is, frankly, intellectually lazy and deeply damaging to what remains of the Reagan coalition. That idea is being promoted by the Old Media and RINO's because they want to marginalize Christians for reasons having nothing to do with spending.
None of the conservatives, Christian or otherwise are getting any lip-service on spending. It annoys me plenty. But it annoys me even more to see members of the conservative coalition swallowing the anti-christian nonsense being promulgated by Old Media folks for the purpose of breaking up the coalition. Think, man!