Friday, May 29, 2009

The interesting upswing in the media and political importance of (some) Libertarians

As the GOP disintegrates into the Old Confederacy, Buffalo Commons & Lawn Jockey Party, Libertarians of all stripes come into play.

The GOP needs them, after two decades of dissing them, to rebuild.

The Dems want them, because if they can get them focused on social and foreign policy issues instead of economic issues, they can cement their (they'd like to believe) permanent political majority.

Meanwhile, as usual, Libertarians waste more and more of their time conducting internal purges over miniscule differences that would have befuddled Stalin and Trotsky.

Nobody, however, really wants Libertarians as Libertarians, any more than the Dems really want queers as queers or the GOPers really want real fiscal conservatives as real fiscal conservatives.

So what they do, as Bruce Bartlett does today at Forbes, is use the term Libertarian as a crude caricature to make those who use it appear to be idiotic bumpkins who need handlers:

On the surface, there would appear to be potential for an alliance. Libertarians tend to be liberal on social issues, favoring such things as gay marriage and drug legalization; and also liberal on defense and foreign policy, opposing the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and opposing torture and restrictions on civil liberties in the name of national security.

But libertarians are conservative on economic policy--favoring a free market with virtually no government intervention except the enforcement of contracts, and no government spending or taxes except those to pay for a very minimal police force and military.

Libertarians' views on social policy and national defense make them sympathetic to the Democrats, while their views on economic policy tend to align them with the Republicans. If one views social, defense and economic policy as having roughly equal weight, it would seem, therefore, that most libertarians should be Democrats. In fact, almost none are. Those that don't belong to the dysfunctional Libertarian Party are, by and large, Republicans.

The reason for this is that most self-described libertarians are primarily motivated by economics. In particular, they don't like paying taxes. They also tend to have an obsession with gold and a distrust of paper money. As a philosophy, their libertarianism doesn't extent much beyond not wanting to pay taxes, being paid in gold and being able to keep all the guns they want. Many are survivalists at heart and would be perfectly content to live in complete isolation on a mountain somewhere, neither taking anything from society nor giving anything.


Neat pseudo-intellectual trick there, Bruce. You--a non-Libertarian--label what you decide are the three foundations of Libertarian belief, assign equal value to each, and then declare that if Libertarians weren't so selfish, anti-social, and prone to violence, they'd all be Democrats.

Let's leave aside the fact that both the Democratic Party and the current Democratic presidential administration are far more interventionist than I'd call Libertarian....

Or that both the Democratic Party and the current Democratic presidential administration are far more socially intrusive than any Libertarian would be comfortable with....

Meanwhile, Bartlett conflates a specific sub-group of Libertarians [minarchists] with all Libertarians on fiscal issues, favoring a free market with virtually no government intervention except the enforcement of contracts, and no government spending or taxes except those to pay for a very minimal police force and military.

This argument is a little more sophisticated than ascribing a love of watermelons, fried chicken, and dancing to all African-Americans, but not by much.

On the other hand, Libertarians have generally failed to prove that (a) they really understand the nuts and bolts of public policy; or that (b) they would take seriously the idea of governing rather than immediately and blindly setting about dismantling the government. [Monday, we'll eliminate the Fed, Tuesday, the IRS, Wednesday, the FBI....]

But I could also argue that neither the Dems or the GOPers have actually used that understanding of public policy to make any real difference in the exponential growth of government, the increasing pace of American wars abroad, or the persistent cancerous penetration of the nanny state into my daily life....

So maybe the benefit of winning elections is, ah, overrated.

2 comments:

Waldo said...

A big part of the problem- which I'd love to see you unpack- is that right wingers (most recently Mancow on waterboarding) use claiming they are libertarians to buffet-lie their way out of the more noxious bits of conservatism/GOPism.

In effect, the people who denounce RINO Republicans have invented their own sort of NIMBY-RINOISM on the backs of the LP.

Miko said...

The Dems want them, because if they can get them focused on social and foreign policy issues instead of economic issues, they can cement their (they'd like to believe) permanent political majority.If the Democrats' actions actually matched their rhetoric, I'd go for this Faustian bargain. Ditto for the Republicans on economic issues. Unfortunately, Obama is doing just as much to end the wars, end torture, etc., as Bush did to end corporate welfare, balance the budget, etc.

(b) they would take seriously the idea of governing rather than immediately and blindly setting about dismantling the government.This is a bit like complaining that a prison-reform group wants to free all falsely convicted inmates instead of taking seriously the idea of providing them with better meals. I can see pragmatists endorsing the gradualist strategy, but for those of us that believe war is murder, taxation is theft, and regulations are designed to keep a large under-class dependent on the corporate and statist elite for their survival, the goal has to be ending the corrupt system rather than redecorating it. Sure, we may end up with gradualism in practice, but there's nothing wrong with remembering what we're aiming at. Which, incidentally, is why most libertarians prefer engaging in grass-roots activity to the electoral farce of "which of these candidates is slightly less bad?" Even if it loses us a few votes, we have to admit that the electoral strategy hasn't been working well so far, as the deck is stacked against us by those who have power and want to keep it.