On libertarians, Mitt Romney, and the future of fusionism
Over the last few days, I’ve been reading some interesting conversations on Twitter and elsewhere about the role that libertarians will play in the presidential election. There has been a lot of talk about Gary Johnson, the Libertarian Party’s nominee, spoiling the election for Mitt Romney. That has obviously caused some concern by and friction from conservatives, who are saying that a “vote for Johnson is a vote for Obama.”
Before I jump into some points, I’d like to remind my conservative friends that this is not one national race for president, but rather 51 separate races, including the District of Columbia. By my count, Romney has a long road to haul in many battleground states, including Colorado, Ohio, and Virginia. Right now, President Barack Obama holds a substantial advantage in the Electoral College, which is what ultimately matters on election day.
There is a disconnect between conservatives and libertarians. Our conservative friends tend to believe in the concept of “ordered liberty,” a principle perhaps best explained by Russell Kirk. To most libertarians, the concept of ordered liberty is really “soft statism.” As you might imagine, this view doesn’t really have much of an appeal to libertarians.
When it comes down to it, libertarians don’t fit anywhere on the political scale. While many will dumb down our beliefs as “socially liberal” and “fiscally conservative,” there is really much more to the equation. We believe in the sovereignty of the individual. Our view of morality can be best defined by what John Stuart Mill called the “harm principle.”
Most of the discussion, if you can call it that, has been conservatives essentially beating libertarians over the head, saying, “Vote for Romney or else!” Yeah, that’s not how you appeal to us. All that does is solidify opposition. It’s not going to work.
But what you could do is try to understand where we’re coming from on a few points, even if you don’t agree with them. And I’ve also included an important point that libertarians should consider before casting their ballot in November.
Not all libertarians are “Libertarians”: Many of you are probably scratching your heads at this one, but it’s true. Many, dare I say most, libertarians — by that I mean those that believe in the libertarian philosophy (ie. small-“L”) — don’t consider the Libertarian Party to be a viable option.
If you asked many who consider themselves to be libertarians what they think of the LP, as I have done in the past, they would tell you that the party has probably set the libertarian movement back because they are perceived as being a bunch of pot smoking hippies.
The libertarians who hold these opinions may or may not vote. It’s in our nature to be politically disengaged. We generally don’t like politics, and those of us that do get involved do it because we enjoy it, in some weird and twisted way.
There are many libertarians who look to the Republican Party as the best vehicle for political change, typically because they put economics on the pedestal. That’s not to say that they don’t believe the personal liberty aspect on the libertarian philosophy, but, like Milton Friedman, they are Republicans out of convenience.
The bottom line here is that it’s disingenuous to lump every libertarian into the Libertarian Party and tell them that if they vote for anyone other than Mitt Romney that they are voting for Barack Obama. If you want to win libertarians over, you don’t do it by making them sound like they are committing some unpardonable sin.
It’s not Ron Paul (for most of us): There has been a lot said about the swarm of Ron Paul supporters who will do pretty much whatever the he says. While I have great respect for Ron Paul and what he has done (though I may not always agree with him), this movement has alway been bigger than one man.
Yes, I know he was the Libertarian Party’s presidential nominee in 1988, but Ron Paul is not really a libertarian. I don’t mean that as an insult, but rather to point out that many of his more recent beliefs are grounded in traditional conservatism — whether you want to call that “Old Right” or “paleoconservative.”
Take, for example, his position on immigration. He tends to carry the same message as many Republicans in Congress. Another example is gay marriage. Sure, he believes in a federalist approach to the issue, but Paul has complained about the Obama Administration decision not to fight the challenge to he Defense of Marriage Act in federal court.
It’s true that libertarians do respect and admire many of his positions, such as his views on civil liberties and foreign policy; though some of do believe he could have relayed them better.
Many of his supporters may indeed be libertarian, but my interaction with them has led me to believe that they are mostly just angry and were never going to vote for anyone but Ron Paul anyway. In other words, don’t waste your time with them.
About Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan: Many of the people I see complaining about libertarians not supporting Mitt Romney were saying the same things about him during the Republican primary that we are saying now. Many conservatives said that Romney lacked a spine and his positions changed with the wind. They also noted that Romney’s signature achievement while Governor of Massachusetts — his health care reform law — served as the blueprint for ObamaCare.
In recent days, Romney has even touted his “expertise” on that particular issue, which indeed shows how truly out of touch he is with his base. On spending, Romney hasn’t presented much in the way of a real plan to cut spending. Sure, he talks a good game, but he’s said he wants to increase defense spending. There is little question that he’ll be too afraid to touch entitlements because of the political fallout that would follow, especially after his comments about the “47%.”
And on civil liberties and foreign policy; well, let’s just say there is no faith that Romney would do anything different that what Obama is doing now or what Bush did before. In fact, Romney has said that he could bomb Iran without congressional approval, getting us involved in yet another open-ended military engagement.
Like Mitt Romney, Paul Ryan talks a good game, but at least there is substance. Ryan comes across authentic. His budgets, the “Roadmap to America’s Future” and the “Path to Prosperity,” are credible plans that would deal with many of the problems we face. But there is another side to Ryan that many conservatives gloss over, such as his votes for Medicare Part D, TARP, No Child Left Behind, and the auto bailout. He hasn’t backed up the rhetoric he espouses when it has mattered most.
And even if he didn’t have those marks and others on his record, Ryan will have little role in shaping policy in a Romney Administration.
You say that Romney is still better than Obama. But from our perspective, all Romney does is maintain the status quo with bloated budgets, diminished civil liberties, and more foreign intervention. Tell us again, how is Romney better?
For what it’s worth, libertarians do have a lot to lose: Yes, my libertarian friends, you knew this was coming. We’ve discussed fusionism some here recently. We have sought for our own influence, and with some success. The Tea Party movement, though populist in its nature, popularized many libertarian beliefs on fiscal issues. Indeed, the heart of the movement is libertarianism.
For years, we complained about not having a seat at the table when Republicans were in power. That wasn’t always our fault. But 2012 does give us an opportunity to work with groups with which we share a mutual interest. No, I’m not telling you to vote for Mitt Romney, but I am saying that we should get involved with groups like the Club for Growth and FreedomWorks, both of which are of our mind on free markets and other fiscal issues.
Though the reasons for voting for another alternative are entirely understandable, if libertarians do shun Romney, we will be persona non-grata in conservative circles. Any hope of them working with us on particular issues will be hard to come by. And with that, our much needed voice and influence will be greatly diminished.
Personally, your vote is exactly that — your vote. I’m not trying to influence you one way or another, but be prepared for the fallout because conservatives are going to want someone to blame — whether its libertarians or Ron Paul supporters. That’s all I’m saying.