I was intrigued by the question posed by Jim Geraghty at National Review Online yesterday, “Do We on the Right Still Trust the People?” My first instinct was to respond “yes, of course we do,” because after all the idea that we as individuals can take care of ourselves better than the government can is one of the reasons we believe in limited government. The problem is, the American people have not been voting as though they really believe that themselves. So really, this question is two questions:
- Do we trust the American people to take care of themselves?; and
- Do we trust the American people to vote in ways that allow them to take care of themselves?
The answer to the first is obvious, as I’ve already mentioned. We do believe that the people are better at taking care of themselves than the government is. When left alone by government, individuals will be more empowered to make a living for themselves and pursue happiness as they wish. Society as a whole would be happier and more prosperous under a limited government than it currently is under big government.
The second question is much more difficult, because the American people have not voted for liberty. Instead, they have voted for the much easier relative security of the cradle-to-grave welfare/entitlement state and the nurturing of big government statism. Clearly the American electorate has not given us reason to have faith in them to vote against the largesse, as the welfare state has continued to grow. The question is: Why? And as a secondary question, how do we reach out to voters to get them to understand that they will be better off under smaller government than they are under big government?
When I first heard that Glenn Beck was going to relaunch his “The Blaze” as a libertarian-focused network, I was skeptical as I’m sure a lot of libertarians were. While Beck has called himself a libertarian for some time, he has spent the last few years peddling in conspiracy theories and general looniness that has served to be quite an embarassment. I used to listen to his radio show and watched his Fox News program for about a year before I became tired of his antics. So when his show was canceled and he moved to a pay-per-view format, I was glad to see him go.
But Beck has proven he knows what he is doing. He has been able to create a successful business outside the cable world. He is reaching a sizable audience, largely of the young folks that need to be won to the libertarian cause. These folks might already be leaning that way and would benefit greatly from hearing more libertarian viewpoints and analysis. And there are many more who simply never hear this perspective who might be getting it for the first time, or the first time by actual libertarians instead of cartoonish versions given by the regular media.
In an excellent piece urging that oral contraception become available over the counter that ran in this morning’s print edition of the Wall Street Journal (subscription may be required), Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, whose résumé includes a litany of health policy wonkery, sounded the death knell of both big government’s dominion over one aspect of reproductive health, and the pharmaceutical industry’s influence over that policy. Further, Jindal’s position masterfully bridges the gap between social conservatives and libertarians, as it accounts for both market-based health care (vs. Obamacare) and the protection of religious liberty and conscience (also vs. Obamacare). Here’s an excerpt:
Michael Hamilton is a libertarian writer living in Washington, D.C. His main interests are economics, drug legalization, immigration, and land-use policy.
“The plans differ; the planners are all alike.” — Frédéric Bastiat
It’s common to hear libertarians pejoratively referred to as “Republicans who smoke pot,” the idea being that libertarians don’t really favor freedom in areas where it would lead to outcomes they do not like. For the most part this is false. There is one policy area, however, where this is an accurate criticism: land-use policy. On this issue, the dominant libertarian narrative does not live up to its name.
The narrative, to put it briefly, is that most Americans prefer detached, single-family homes, and zoning laws reflect this for the most part. Save for eliminating certain regulations aimed at curbing sprawl that make homes expensive such as open space rules or growth boundaries, it says policymakers should avoid making major changes to traditional zoning laws lest we fall into the hands of the “planners” and have to live under “smart growth” policies. The narrative associates suburbs, homeownership, and cars with mobility and better living. Libertarians main goals, so it goes, should be relatively inexpensive (or at least not “artificially expensive”) single-family homes and decent traffic. Note that libertarians who support traditional zoning do not consider themselves planners
This narrative is not only wrong, but distinctly unlibertarian. Before I attack it, two small concessions:
First, smart growth is something that libertarians should oppose for both philosophical and utilitarian reasons.
Yesterday, I had the opportunity to speak at the Cato Institute’s New Media Lunch on some of the issues facing the Republican Party after the 2012 election. The forum, focused exclusively on social issues, was appropriately headlined as “The Republican Problem.”
While Walter Olson went over gay marriage, Rob Kampia on marijuana policy, and Alex Nowrasteh on immigration, I tried to focus on how conservative activists and the conservative blogosphere are adjusting post-2012. With that, I wanted to mention some of what I briefly talked about yesterday in a post this morning.
In the days since the election, I’ve spent a lot of time on Twitter and Facebook reading comments from conservative activists and bloggers. They realize that they have a lot of work ahead of them and they can no longer afford to live in a bubble. They see that social issues — such as gay marriage, the war on drugs, and immigration — present a problem moving forward.
Activist organizations are looking for ways to build outreach to younger voters and minorities, though the immigration issue remains a tough challenge for conservatives, and many are realizing that the war on drugs has failed. Right on Crime, a conservative-backed initiative, has become somewhat popular as cash-strapped states look for ways to take some pressure off of their prision systems. While we as libertarians see this as a personal liberty issue, it’s an easier sell as an economic issue to our conservative friends.
As I’ve made clear before I was a fan of neither major party Presidential candidate. Both stood for big government, continued spending, interventionist foreign policy, and little respect for civil liberties. So as Election Day approached, I was excited to cast my vote for Gary Johnson. As far as actual policies go, he was the only candidate running who offered anything different than the status quo.
That being said, I won’t deny that, while I did not vote for him, I was pulling for Romney to win, simply because I don’t think Obama has the slightest clue how to handle the economy. This fact alone was enough to make me at least flirt with the idea of voting for Mitt as I stood in line to cast my vote. While I ended up voting Johnson, on Election Night I was quietly hoping that somehow Romney could pull it out.
But once it became clear that he would not, my focus shifted to various other races and ballot initiatives. And for the most part, these turned out just like I had hoped. Gay marriage was legalized in Maryland and Maine, and marijuana initiatives did very well. Not everything turned out great, but it was exciting to see evidence that attitudes are changing on both of these topics.
Furthermore, hard-core social conservatism had a very bad day, which is good for anyone who hopes that segment of the GOP can be reduced in influence. Michele Bachmann almost lost her election, and both Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock were defeated soundly after expressing extreme and offensive views on rape and abortion. It looks as if Allen West was defeated as well. All of these are good news if you want the GOP to jettison some of its more extreme members.
I want to love the Libertarian Party. I really do. It’s the only political party out there that is anywhere close to my beliefs. I cannot stand the Democrats’ Keynesian social welfare malarkey, which ruins our economy, keeps folks from getting jobs, basically makes people dependent on the government, and is run on absolutely no logic whatsoever. Conversely, I cannot stand the Republicans’ social conservatism BS, which oppresses gays, lesbians, bisexuals, transgenders, Muslims, pagans, atheists (and agnostics), Hispanics, immigrants, marijuana users and, to an extent, women. I can’t stand either party’s foreign policy, or their joint support of such idiotic civil liberty destroying things such as our current national security state or the war on drugs. Only the Libertarian Party has a platform that I fully (or near as fully as anyone can) support.
But regrettably, the Libertarian Party hasn’t had a lot of success. This is understandable; we are unfortunately stuck on a rather ridiculous plurality vote system that became obsolete in the middle of the 20th century, an archaic throwback to a far more simpler time when the entire electorate was comprised of a bunch of old white landowners (all men, natch.) In our current system, it is nearly impossible for a third party to get success anywhere, though there are examples where they do (notably at the governor level, including, this last time around, Rhode Island.)
There have been lots of blogs and articles about how to bring women into the libertarian movement. Rachel Burger took her stab at it this past Friday. Most of her piece is about social oppression and a response to another piece, but she concluded with this:
It’s very easy to point to state authoritarianism and say “no,” but we cannot ignore for societal oppression either. As a predominantly white male political group, the crushing effects of social oppression often go unrecognized within our circle, simply because it doesn’t affect the majority of libertarians. This cannot continue. If we want to see change in this country, we have to actively be aware of the states of different members of the population and work on more inclusive messaging. This includes women and minorities; once we start doing that, we might see more of them within our movement.
I’m not going to address minorities because Rachel’s piece wasn’t about that. The biggest problem with Rachel’s piece is it focuses way too much on the philosophical and not enough on practical things like messaging.
Most people don’t live their lives through an ideological prism. They care about just living their lives and taking care of their families. Libertarians have a tendency to try and reach people on a largely philosophical and theoretical plain and Rachel’s piece is no different in that regard. The problem is when you talk about feminist ideas on societal oppression or even abstract ideas on liberty; they don’t register with someone whose only concerns are about how they will provide for their families. As a movement, we need to be become more relevant to everyone’s lives. As we become a more practical movement, we can speak to everyone, regardless of gender.
In what is becoming its very own genre of blog post, another conservative voice has come out with a plea for libertarians to support Mitt Romney. To those of us who were not born last week, this all seems quite humorous as most of the time libertarians are treated as irrelevant. In this election, though, things have gotten tight and our votes count as much as those of the most hardcore Republicans.
As I wrote here two weeks ago, Republicans have a long way to go before they can make a truly credible case to libertarians. For one thing, they need to understand that most libertarians do not see themselves in the same way as conservatives and liberals. For the most part, both of these groups line up pretty well with a major party. Sure, conservatives will say they want the GOP to be more right-leaning, and liberals will say they want the Democrat Party to veer more progressive, but they are both going to vote for their respective parties in the end. Libertarians, though, mesh with elements of both parties - and find plenty to dislike about both as well.
It’s clear to me that the writer of the post, Mr. Brady Cremeens, didn’t read that post, and doesn’t understand the first thing about libertarians. His entire piece is premised upon the idea that libertarians are just another element of the Right that simply needs to be brought back into the fold. In Cremeens’ world, we really are just “conservatives who smoke pot” as the saying goes. With his initial premise being flawed, then, it does not bode well for the rest of what he says. If he does not understand where libertarians are coming from, how can he possibly make a convincing case?
As the election approaches, backers of both major candidates are doing their best to round up any potential uncommitted voters. For the Republicans, one of these target blocs seems to be libertarians, many of whom are planning to not vote, or to support Libertarian Party candidate Gary Johnson (myself being the latter). However, as Jason expressed earlier this week, these attempts are often counterproductive because conservatives, by and large, do not understand how libertarians think, and thus conversion efforts fall flat.
Now, for my purposes I don’t particularly care who wins this year, because both candidates are frankly awful. As I expressed in my post last week the GOP has in many ways become a joke, dominated by people who add nothing to the intellectual marketplace, and in fact often dumb it down and polarize the country for their own gain. When Mitt Romney expressed his now infamous “47%” theory, he was regurgitating the sort of fact-free nonsense that is rampant on the right. However, there are also those who believe the party has some hope, and offers the best chance for libertarian voices to be heard. If that is the case, though, the party as a whole needs to understand some things about us crazy libertarians, and the current tactics used to convince us are in fact going to do the opposite.