Written by David Boaz, executive vice president at the Cato Institute. It is cross-posted with permission from Cato @ Liberty.
News reports quote President Obama, in discussing the debt ceiling and the ongoing argument over tax and spending policy in his press conference yesterday, saying:
It turns out the American people agree with me.
Do they? It’s true that a majority of respondents told pollsters that they wanted to raise taxes on someone else. And Congress did that in the “fiscal cliff” legislation.
But what about the president’s insistence on a larger government and essentially no cuts in federal spending? The election day exit polls shed some light on those questions.
51 percent of voters polled said the government is doing too many things better left to businesses and individuals—8 points higher than in the 2008 election. Only 43 percent of voters said they believe government should be doing more.
49 percent said the 2010 health care law should be repealed, with only 44 percent of voters supporting it.
An earthquake rocked the libertarian world last week when news broke that a lawsuit had been filed over the ownership of shares in the Cato Institute, the libertarian think tank founded some 30 year ago in the wake of Ed Clark’s run as the 1980 Libertarian Party Presidential nominee. It started, apparently, last year with the death of William Niskanen, who along with Ed Crane, David Boaz, and countless others, had spent three decades shaping Cato into not just the leading libertarian public policy think tank, but also an organization that has become well-respected on both sides of the political aisle.
It’s difficult to list everything that Cato has done in the past thirty years, because they’ve done so much. They publish numerous publicy policy analyis reports on every subject that the nation’s leaders deal with. For many years they have published a guide book for each new Congress. Since the late 1980s they have run Cato University, an opportunity for young libertarians to learn from an interact with some truly great minds. Indeed, yours truly particlpated in one of those seminars at Dartmouth College in 1989 and I still remember it as one of the most intellectually engaging weeks of my life. That’s just a short list, I’m sure I’m missing something.
In any case, the dispute that is rocking Cato now is, as I said rooted in the death of William Niskanen last year, and a shareholder agreement with Charles and David Koch:
The billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch filed a lawsuit Wednesday for control of the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank in Washington.
Since 1993, CNN has regularly asked a pair of questions that touch on libertarian views of the economy and society:
Some people think the government is trying to do too many things that should be left to individuals and businesses. Others think that government should do more to solve our country’s problems. Which comes closer to your own view?
Some people think the government should promote traditional values in our society. Others think the government should not favor any particular set of values. Which comes closer to your own view?
A libertarian, someone who believes that the government is best when it governs least, would typically choose the first view in the first question and the second view in the second.
[I]n CNN’s latest version of the poll, conducted earlier this month, the libertarian response to both questions reached all-time highs. Some 63 percent of respondents said government was doing too much — up from 61 percent in 2010 and 52 percent in 2008 — while 50 percent said government should not favor any particular set of values, up from 44 percent in 2010 and 41 percent in 2008. (It was the first time that answer won a plurality in CNN’s poll.)
Some of you may remember The Libertarian Vote, a Cato Institute study released back in 2006, which showed how libertarians and libertarian-leaning voters (fiscally conservative, socially liberal) were abandoning Republicans largely due to dramatically increased spending, the war in Iraq and increased intervention in individuals private lives.
During the 2008 president election, a couple of surveys, specifically Rasmussen, showed that libertarian voters were supporting Barack Obama over John McCain in the race between the “lesser of two evils.”
There’s an idea in mainstream American politics that the two-party system, the elephants and donkeys, the red and the blue, the GOP and the Dems, are — and will always be — the most voters in this country will ever have to choose from. Third parties tend to pop up and then die a quick death in the history of American political preferences.
But something — as young libertarians are fond of saying — is happening to the older conservatism of the GOP. It’s getting a streak of, well, libertarian purple in its gray hair. And this new conservatism may better resemble the original founders ideas about government and leadership better than the conservatism of the last 30 years. And it’s making both young and old excited. So much so that cynical, inside-the-beltway publications as self-assured as Politico are, if they want to stay relevant, forced to address and explain just what is happening on the right — and increasingly the left — side of the aisle.
In a piece entitled, “The Libertarian Surge,” David Boaz, executive vice president of the Cato Institute, writes a primer on just what it is libertarians think and believe — presumably because the demand to know exists:
Libertarianism — the political philosophy that says limited government is the best kind of government — is having its moment. Unfortunately, that’s mostly because government has been expanding in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks and the financial crisis. Somehow government failures lead to even more government.
“My thing is personal freedoms, freedoms for the individual to love whom they want, do with what they want. In fact, I want the government out of almost everything.” — Rob Lowe
— Boaz on the “libertarian surge”: At Politico Magazine, David Boaz, executive vice president at the Cato Institute, explains why libertarianism is growing in popularity. “Lots of libertarians were involved in the tea party and the opposition to the bailouts, the car company takeovers, the 2009 stimulus bill and the quasi-nationalization of health care. But libertarians were also involved in the movement for gay marriage,” Boaz writes. “Indeed, John Podesta, a top adviser to Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama and founder of the Center for American Progress, noted in 2011 that you probably had to have been a libertarian to have supported gay marriage 15 years earlier. Or take marijuana legalization, which is just now becoming a majority position: Libertarians have been leaders in the opposition to the drug war for many years.” He points out that libertarians “have played a key role in the defense of the right to keep and bear arms over the years.” He also notes that Ron Paul and, more recently, his son, Rand Paul, have sparked interest in the libertarian philosophy.
The finger-pointing continues as Congress enters the eighth day of the government shutdown and there doesn’t seem to be a resolution in sight.
Tuesday began with President Barack Obama daring House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) to pass a clean Continuing Resolution (CR). Boehner has insisted that such a measure can’t pass the House, but President Obama wants the Ohio Republican to “prove it.” Yes, folks, Washington is apparently governing by double-dog dares.
The Washington Post noted yesterday that are enough moderate Republicans willing to join Democrats to pass a clean CR. But that’s questionable. While there may be enough House Republicans unhappy about the stalemate, they’ve rejected a procedural trick by Democrats to bring the measure that President Obama wants to the floor.
The interesting aspect in all of this is that President Obama, despite all of his rhetoric, has distanced himself from the CR and debt ceiling debate. The Hill noted yesterday that the White House is now deferring to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), putting him in charge of negotiations with House leadership. For his part, Reid is has been just as unwilling to move from his position as the White House.
There is quite the debate going on in the liberty movement as to whether or not libertarians should partner with conservatives and/or Republicans to advance their beliefs. This was part of a discussion that I had with David Boaz, who explained that libertarians could work with conservatives on fiscal issues, but was “uncomfortable” with defining the movement to include conservatives.
Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI), who generally votes in a manner consistent with libertarian principles, weighed in on the debate last week, telling a crowd of college students that young libertarians should work within in the Republican Party to advance their views:
Rep. Justin Amash, R-Mich., called for greater youth involvement to unify the libertarian movement and the Republican Party on Feb. 26 at an event hosted by AU College Republicans and AU Young Americans for Liberty in the in the Mary Graydon Center.
Amash emphasized that legislators cannot please everybody, including their own party when voting on issues that cross party lines.
“You’re never going to find people who agree with you on every single issue,” Amash said. “It doesn’t mean that they are sellouts just because they disagree with you on one or two issues. It matters that they have a reason, that they have a principled logic to it.”
Amash also urged today’s youth to get involved with the Republican Party.
“I don’t think libertarians should subsume themselves in a conservative movement or even just in a fiscally conservative movement. [A]bsolutely libertarians can work with conservatives on fiscal issues.” — David Boaz
Editor’s note: The audio came out a little weird. We tried to work out the kinks, but didn’t have much success. Apologies.
On Friday, I sat down with David Boaz, Executive Vice President of the Cato Institute and author of Libertarianism: A Primer and The Politics of Freedom: Taking on the Left, the Right, and Threats to Our Liberties, to discuss the sequester, CPAC, and fusionism between libertarians and conservatives.
Since we did the interview on “Sequester Day,” I asked Boaz about some of the silliness and scare tactics that have been used in recent weeks as we counted down the days until the spending cuts took effect.
“A lot of the silliness, of course, is a dedicated campaign by the Obama Administration. They want people to believe that if you cut anything out of the federal budget the country will fall apart,” Boaz explained. “And we know that if they actually do the things they’re talking about — you know, we’re gonna lift the border patrol and let illegals flood into America and we’re gonna take TSA officers off and slow down all the airplanes — it’s a deliberate strategy.”
There was a lot of talk during the election about the libertarian vote thanks in part to Ron Paul’s bid for the White House and the work done by David Boaz, Emily Ekins, and David Kirby at the Cato Institute. Many conservatives spent their time and efforts trying to convince libertarians to vote for Mitt Romney, the Republican Party nominee, rather than voting for Barack Obama or a third-party candidate
While this debate with our conservative friends became heated at times, libertarian voters overwhelmingly cast their ballots for Romney; at least based on what we know. This isn’t exactly surprising since libertarians, though politically independent in nature, have generally been supportive of Republican candidates.
With that said, Republicans are struggling with a segment of libertarian voters that has been all too common of a theme and a reflection of its larger electoral problems. Earlier this month, Emily Ekins — co-author of The Libertarian Vote: Swing Voters, Tea Parties, and the Fiscally Conservative, Socially Liberal Center — noted that Obama took a plurality of young libertarian voters: