Thursday, June 08, 2006

Fighting To Claim Libertarians

It's funny- I almost wrote an entry on this thought a few days ago, when I noticed a Dionne column that used the word 'libertarian' in a positive light. Dionne isn't the first person I think of when I think of us, meaning libertarians. In fact, he's one of the last.

That's been happening a lot lately. I know, because I do searches in 20-50 media sites every day on the word 'libertarian' to see what comes up. More often than not in the past, the word 'libertarian' appeared alongside the word 'civil'. Now it seems, when a writer is ascribing virtue, they are describing someone or some policy as 'libertarian'.

Earlier this year, Mitch Daniels was describing himself (with the help of George Will) as a libertarian, and cited Virginia Postrel's book "The Future and its Enemies" as one of his guiding influences. Postrel is the former editor of the foremost libertarian monthly Reason.

Earlier today, Markos Moulitsas explained in great depth that he is a 'Libertarian Democrat'. For those who somehow don't know, Markos is "Kos", as in "Daily Kos"- the foremost political blog in the US, and the carrier of the chevron for many on the left in this country. Kos is featured in Time this week.

I don't think it is any coincidence that there is a very mainstream battle for libertarians. A recent report from the Pew Research Center, announced that only 9% of Americans are libertarians philosophically. So, the rest are liberal or conservative, right? Wrong. 15% are conservative, while 18% are liberal. The lion's share are ambivalent (42%).

That's useful information with the elections only 150+ days away, and Democrats and Republicans looking for ways to earn the edge. I don't know how you go about reaching people who are ambivalent. I do know how you go about reaching people who self-identify as clearly as libertarians do. You point out areas of agreement in order to lure them in. If either side can win that 9% libertarian bloc, they win in November.

Both left and right have the capacity to reach out to libertarians, because libertarians agree with those on the right who believe in economic liberty, while we agree with those on the left who believe in personal liberty. Expect a whole lot of pandering to us in the next 150 days. It's a good thing. It screams, "relevance".

The Kos entry is very telling. The first thing he does is bitch-slap the Libertarian Party. Harshly. That's because the one thing- the logical thing- that those who self-identify as libertarians should be doing is backing the Libertarian Party. Both left and right will be working hard to classify the LP as strictly irrelevant while singing the praises of our philosophy. That's quite a song and dance when you break it down. From Kos:
And what is the common thread amongst these candidates?

They are all Libertarian Democrats.

Ack, the "L" word! But hear me out.

Traditional "libertarianism" holds that government is evil and thus must be minimized. Any and all government intrusion is bad. While practical libertarians (as opposed to those who waste their votes on the Libertarian Party) have traditionally aligned themselves with the Republicans, it's clear that the modern GOP has no qualms about trampling on personal liberties. Heck, it's become their raison d' etre. (Emphasis is mine.)

What Kos points out about the GOP is correct. The thing he wants you to gloss over is that Dems haven't delivered on the civil liberties end either.

See, there's a reason I put the current poll up about wasted votes and failure to deliver. People are looking for alternatives this year like no other since 1974. Democrats really want to capitalize on flailing Republicans and lure new voters to undo Republican majorities. For their part, Republicans just want to hang on. Both will trot out the Wasted Vote Syndrome to thwart votes going to Libertarian candidates.

Indeed, this year, the biggest challenge I see for the Libertarian Party is to at last demolish the myth of the Wasted Vote Syndrome.

Mainly, there are wasted votes each November. If you are a libertarian and you wanted smaller government and less spending so you voted Republican, you wasted your vote. If you are a libertarian and you wanted more personal freedoms and you voted Democrat, you wasted your vote.

Once people realize that the only way to get what they want is to vote for candidates of the only party committed to libertarian principles, they will finally begin to get them.

Republicans enjoy burying libertarians in their Liberty Caucus, and why there is such a thing as the Log Cabin Republican is utterly beyond me. So, let's see what bogus holding corporation the Dems create for libertarians to be buried in this year, because you know they aren't going to go straight to the policy-making positions in the DNC any more than we did in the RNC.

The Kos post is getting a lot of comment among Libertarian bloggers: Cato-at-Liberty #1; Cato-at-Liberty #2; Reason Hit & Run; Hammer of Truth.

Jeff Pruitt asked me what I thought of Kos' take on Libertarianism. I think Kos gets some part of it, mainly the individual liberty part. That's the part I really expect the left to get. Remember, my roots as a youth were as a Democrat, because I believed strongly in the First Amendment and was opposed to a draft, and the Democrats were speaking my language on those things. Then Tipper Gore got involved with the PMRC, and it was all downhill from there with the Dems and me. It's true indeed that we have plenty of common ground, and I really am delighted to see Kos shine light on it. But, forgive my cynicism on the battleground. I've been taken for granted too many times in my short life thus far.

Stephen Gordon from Hammer of Truth says very well what I might say about Kos' take on corporate power and government:
That’s right, [Kos] actually said that government is a check on corporations’ power! Hello! Wake up and smell the reality. Government is the source of corporations’ power. Corporations have gotten very good at getting government to empower them to do whatever they want. Without government, corporations could not exist. And the less power government wields over the people, the less power the corporation can leverage to its own ends. (Emphasis original.)

There is nothing to be feared more than the government-business partnership. Government wields unlimited literal physical power, while business holds limited but vast financial power. Put them together and the little guy will be crushed like so much ant crap under the heel of a polished boot. The government-business partnership is precisely what gave us Kelo v. New London, a taxpayer funded Colts stadium with NK Hurst hanging on for survival, and thousands of other outrages.

Kelo wouldn't have been fighting to save his home without a developer partnered with the City of New London. NK Hurst wouldn't have had to fight to preserve their building if the Colts built their stadium on their own. Both would have told the developers, "Not interested!", and that would have been that. Only government has the power to evict. Corporations partner up to tap into it.

Government a check on corporate power. Sheesh. On that note, I could get going on the 'who is the utopian loon?' angle, but I think the point is made.

Update: The Kos post has more than 850 comments. They're worth skimming. While there is the Libertarian/fiscal conservative bashing and way-off descriptions of what a libertarian is, as you might expect, there is even more thoughtful dialogue. It's a glorious thing seeing libertarian ideas getting a serious hearing in a place like Daily Kos. Here's one particularly astute comment:
I think if you ask any libertarian to rank their trust of "government authority" in order from local, regional, state and federal choices, local would rank highest and federal lowest. So when you hear libertarians bashing government, most of the time it's the centralized federal government they're talking about. We all agree that all politics is local, but the Dems for some reason ignore that tenet to rush up to Washington to try to solve specific problems in a broad, one-size-fits-all approach which leads to massive bloat, waste and inefficiency. Libertarians I believe would rather the local/regional community address their issues in their own way, in ways that are most productive and relevant for their own communities, and look to their state level government for assistance only if needed. The federal government would be the LAST place they'd turn to solve problems in their communities. For Dems, it's the first place they turn, every time.

Got that right! Libertarians are not anarchists, as is often misstated. We fear centralized power, so when you hear a Libertarian describe Democrats as 'evil', 'completely wrong', or as 'opposite to Libertarian', understand that it's hyperbolic speech, but mainly a reaction to centralized government power.

Hat tip to Jeff Pruitt for the original Kos post, and to Andrew Lee for this comment.


Jeff Pruitt said...


I appreciate you addressing this with your post.

I do agree that the democratic party has a tendency to favor federal government over local government and I think it's costing us at the ballot boxes.

The main argument Kos makes (time and time again) is that the democratic party is constantly competing against itself. If a candidate isn't pro-choice he's hammered by the women's groups, if a candidate believes marriage should be defined between a man and a women he's beaten down by the AGLT wing. It's just silly that democrats can't come together on anything. The democratic primary for governor in California is a prime example - both candidates ran negative campaigns essentially making the winner the loser come November.

The "new democrats", netroots, populists, libertarian democrats, whatever you want to call them, are trying to change this and I think there will be a more libertarian feel to the party. Does that mean that full-blooded libertarians will begin to agree w/ everything in the democratic platform? Hardly - but I hope these people begin to see that you don't have to be a tree-hugging, gay-maoist to fit in either.

Also, people like Tipper Gore and Hillary Clinton will learn that censorship of rap music, video games, etc is never the answer and promoting individual freedom is a good thing. Government regulation will always be part of the democratic platform but hopefully we can tip the balance to the local level. The netroots democrats are definitely not champions for the beltway crowd.

There is most definitely a battle being waged over libertarian-leaning voters and I honestly believe that these voters/officials will slowly but surely begin to take over the democratic party as a whole and become the dominant bloc within the party

It's probably not the libertarian revolution you seek but I think it's progress for the libertarian agenda nonetheless...

Mike Kole said...

I agree. I think the Dems are most vulnerable to conceding votes to 3rd parties- they can lose them to Greens and Libertarians. It's unlikely that the GOP loses many votes to the Greens.

So, it really behooves Dems to reach out to uncommitted libertarians.

The thing I really liked to see about that post and the enormous diary posts afterwards is that Kos said government isn't the solution to every problem, and his readers said, Kos you're right. That gives me great hope.

Robert Enders said...

Historically, wasn't it Republicans who lost votes to the LP? In the past I usually leaned Republican when I had no other choice.