On (Small-L) Libertarians, Conservatives, And The Republican Party
Earlier this week at The Daily Beast, Tunku Varadarajan pondered the question of just how enthusiastic libertarians ought to be about Republican victories in the mid-term elections, specifically concerning candidates like Sharron Angle, Carl Paladino, and Christine O’Donnell, all of whom seem to be far more closely allied with the GOP socially conservative wing than it’s libertarian wing:
As the midterm elections approach, many libertarians are asking what outcome they should wish for.
My first instinct as a libertarian is, of course, for Republican victories everywhere, particularly for candidates running specifically on a small-government platform. The big-government Bush Republicans have already been punished; now it’s time to get rid of the big-government Democrats—i.e., all of them.
If one were to look for anything more intricate or strategic, one could wish for a Republican House and a Democratic Senate, on the grounds that divided government means fewer new laws and regulations. But given that there’s a Democrat in the White House, I’d say we’ve got enough division already, and that we’d be better off with Republicans in charge of both houses—as well as in the state houses and governors’ mansions, since they’re slightly less beholden to the public-employee unions than are the Democrats. And the Republicans, this time, have been chastened by the emergence of the Tea Party, which should greatly dampen any residual GOP ardor for big government.
But there is a delicate, almost aesthetic question that remains: Do we back candidates like Carl Paladino and Christine O’Donnell—people we wouldn’t ask home to dinner, except in a Dinner for Schmucks sense? Put another way: Is our thirst for a resounding defeat for the statist Democrats so great that some of us would be prepared to swallow a mouthful of “Paladonnell” rotgut along with the premier cru of a GOP victory in the House, the Senate, and elsewhere?
Personally, I would love to see Paladino and O’Donnell lose, since they’ve distracted attention from the small-government message by adding in their own social conservatism and cultural weirdness. Republican primary voters need to be reminded to be more grownup, and practical. But there are, of course, many libertarians who would tend to think that anything is better—yes, even Paladino and O’Donnell—than Democrats endorsed by public-employee unions.
Varadarjan goes on to make a distinction with respect to Sharron Angle, making the argument that he doesn’t know any libertarian who wouldn’t like Harry Reid to lose. He may be right, but as I noted the other day, there’s a difference between wanting Harry Reid to lose and wanting Sharron Angle to win, which is why I would suspect many of my libertarian-minded friends would be exercising the option to vote for None Of The Above if they lived in Nevada. But Varadarjan’s essay leaves unanswered a broader question — why exactly should libertarian-minded voters be excited over the prospect of a Republican victory in the fall?
Reason’s Matt Welch can’t really think of one and encapsulates succinctly the libertarian problem with the GOP:
I for one will not believe for a second that “big-government Bush Republicans have already been punished” enough until the Washington GOP establishment begins to show any seriousness at all about restraining government. If anything, the rise of the unwashed Tea Party types indicates that Republicans have lost the ability and/or incentive to produce credible candidates who take spending cuts anywhere near as seriously as tax cuts. Until that happens, and until anyone with an R by his or her name shows any inclination to cut back on defense spending, war making, and the stockpiling of Executive Power, let alone getting the hell out of whole swaths of private peacable transactions between consenting humans, the most enthusiasm you’ll get from me is seeing politicians and parties get fired, while their captive customers increasingly defect from their tired, predatory bullshit.
Why oh why does it seem that everyone who wants to save a nickel in federal spending has to also have a fixation on gay- and single-woman sex when she is not calling for drug testing for losing your job in the worst recession in years? Is there a necessary connection between wanting to cut Washington spending and hating on the gays (even or especially when your argument is that the federal government shouldn’t be concerned with the places said gays may be working)?
What the hell is wrong with this country – and the Republican Party – that it can’t generate more pols like Gary Johnson, who is actually libertarian as opposed to playing one on TV? Is it that hard, or that off-putting to simply admit that getting the government out of the boardroom and the bedroom (and the classroom!) is part of the same process?
I should note that I can’t legally vote for any of the folks above anyway, even if I wanted to. And I’m well aware that senators and even governors have limited abilities to intrude on anybody’s personal life. But the sorts of statements above make it hard to convince anybody who doesn’t agree with you already that small-government rhetoric is not a stalking horse for a repressive, retrograde regime that will start clamping down on anything that bothers that folks who happen to be in power. That’s a real problem in building a true limited-government coalition because I know plenty of liberals (including gays and lesbians and single women!) who would be basically ready to sign onto a libertarian anti-government agenda if they didn’t feel deep down that it’s simply a way for the state to control their lifestyles.
As Gillespie points out, even Rand Paul, the son of the GOP’s most well-known libertarian, couldn’t resist taking up the social conservative banner recently when he suggested, incorrectly, that it was a Federal Department of Education that put books like Heather Has Two Mommies, while at the same time that his position on the Department of Education is the same as Ronald Reagan’s, even though Reagan campaigned in 1980 on eliminating that department (something he never actually did, of course).
Even on fiscal issues, of course, Republicans don’t exactly have a record to be proud of either. During the eight years of the Bush Administration discretionary spending increased at a faster pace than Lyndon Johnson, a Republican President and Congress proposed programs that are usually associated with “big spending Democrats”, Republicans in Congress sat back and participated in a massive expansion of spending and debt, supported the TARP bailout, and gave billions in taxpayer dollars to the auto companies.
Only a fool would believe, without actual evidence, that the GOP has suddenly seen the error of it’s ways.
This is one of the reasons I can’t be as optimistic about the Tea Party movement as others. While it’s nice to see people getting excited about an idea as abstract as limited government, I have serious questions about just how committed many of its adherents are to limited government at all levels. So, on Election Night, this libertarian will be happy to see many incumbents who have been in power for far too long get booted out, but I’m not going to trust the new guys any more than the old ones. Let’s see if they prove me wrong.