The first is Sager's assessment of Libertarians, who--kind of like African-Americans and Democrats--he sees as having no option but to support the Republican Party. I don't know if I believe that, but the paragraph is so well written that I can't resist it:
Libertarians ... are the comic-book nerds of the political world; if they can find an acceptable partner willing to listen to them prognosticate about who would win in a fight between F. A. Hayek and Milton Friedman, they should consider themselves lucky. And with the only other option around being an ass [the Democratic Party] by turns indifferent or hostile to their core beliefs, libertarians are destined--whatever their grievances--to stay put.
Makes me think of the lyrics to Brad Paisley's song: "I'm a sci-fi fanatic, a mild asthmatic, never been to second base...."
Strangely (and I'll come back to this dichotomy), even though this is what people often think of Libertarians, this is not what they necessarily think of libertarian ideas. They just don't connect the two.
Now for the second Sager quotation, from his section on the lesson that the post-Gingrich Republicans drew from their mid-1990s battles with Bill Clinton over shtting down the government:
Without a doubt, the great majority of Republicans [came to] ... believe that any attempt to shrink government is political poison. While the American people may occasionally indicate that they want smaller government, through elections or through public-opinion polling, they're simply lying. When push comes to cut, they will turn on any politician foolish enough to try to slash spending on anything but the most outlandish of pork-barrel projects--and even there it's best to trim lightly.
On the one hand, this is probably an accurate observation. On the other hand, I don't think the evangelical social conservatives were ever interested in small government once they found out they could use big government's power toward their own ends. And on the gripping hand (prize for the first to spot the reference), nobody since Reagan has actually tried to make the case for a smaller government.
So what to make of all this?
If, as I have been arguing here (strangely echoed in Delawareliberal in certain posts and even hinted at in First State Politics), the Republican Party is on the verge of a terminal national meltdown, we can assume that something will take its place. The "two-party system" requires, oh, two parties for the label to be any good. And after the Republicans nearly suicided over Watergate, they reinvented themselves under Reagan, just like the Democrats reinvented themselves under Clinton. They haven't reinvented themselves since Clinton, but that fact has been obscured by the Republican melt-down.
My first conclusion is that Libertarians cannot afford either to stay with the evangelical social conservative "fusion" within the Republican Party, and since they don't have the strength right now to throw out the Christian Right, they're going to have to leave. They are not going to end up, long term and en masse, as Democrats. Democrats share many Libertarian social beliefs, but their commitment to big government (oh, sorry, "efficient" government) will ultimately be a dealbreaker.
So where do Libertarians go? The national Libertarian Party never tires of reminding the people who visit its website that it is the third largest political party in the country. Unfortunately, far more people subscribe to Batman comics.
Second conclusion: to have anywhere to go (except home) Libertarians have to work on their "Brand Identification," and connect their ideas to real people's lives. There are all sorts of constituencies out there (as Ron Paul is proving) that are into individual freedom: bikers and gays (a not-incompatible mixture), military folks and folk singers, businessmen and college students, people who have to pay the AMT even though they can barely make their mortgage payments.
But a commitment to individual freedom is only half of what a Libertarian is all about; the other half involves smaller, open, limited government. This is where I always got frustrated with Libertarians in college. They could never see a way to get there from here, and as Sager's quotation asserts, reducing the size of government--which equates with reducing farm subsidies, student loans, the military, welfare, and so on--is a difficult sell to people who don't ever expect to have to wean themselves from the government's teat.
Difficult does not mean impossible.
There are ways to make a compelling case that with government--especially state and local government--"less can be more." The problem for Libertarians is that while you can do it in a monograph filled with graphs, scatter plots, and standard deviations, the modern world of icon-driven internet politics has given us superficial voters with sound-bite memories and pseudo-intellectuals with about a 2,000 word attention span. (I can feel you yawning already.)
Even more to the point, for Libertarians to have any credibility, they have to get into position to run some parts of the government, and do it better, more openly, and more frugally than their Demopublican opponents.
Which brings us back to re-branding and reorganizing something besides the Republican Party.
Over the next few weeks I'm going to try to lay out a case for (A) how Libertarians can successfully "re-Brand" in Delaware while sticking to their principles; and (B) why smaller government is still possible and preferrable in terms of the major social problems of the day.
Wish me luck--I'll need it.