libertarians

Why Republicans have to evolve on social issues to win elections

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.

Can the GOP ignore social conservatives?

For years it has been conventional wisdom that the GOP needs the votes of social conservatives to win elections.  Defined loosely, a “social conservative” is someone who has very traditional, restrictionist views on so-called “social issues” like abortion and same-sex marriage.  These voters are mostly white and evangelical Christians.  They support strong restrictions on abortion and oppose any recognition of gay couples.  In short, they are basically anti-libertarians.  As such, the moderate wing of the party has always them as a necessary but disliked coalition partner.

In recent years, though, the tide has started to turn against this strategy.  The portion of the electorate that votes strictly on social issues is shrinking.  Attitudes are changing on gay rights and, while the country tends to lean pro-life, it’s fairly clear that most voters are repulsed by the extreme views held by some pro-life polticians.  It’s clear, then, that the GOP can’t rely on anti-gay rhetoric and severe positions on abortion to win.

The call, then, naturally is coming from those who never even liked social conservatives to push this portion of the voting population to the wayside.  Some, like my colleague Jeremy Kolassa, argue that the GOP should entirely ignore social conservatives.  The thinking goes that moderating on abortion and gay rights will gather enough new votes to make it possible to live without hardline social cons.

Was Election Day a good day for liberty?

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.

An Open Letter from a (small-l) libertarian to the Libertarian Party: This Is Your Last Chance

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.)

Attracting women into the libertarian movement

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.

Another conservative plea to libertarians falls flat

Mitt Romney

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?

Segmenting of the Libertarian Vote: Tea Partiers, Civil Libertarians, and Libertarian Independents

Written by David Kirby, associate policy analyst at the Cato Institute. Posted with permission from Cato @ Liberty.

Last week, I posted data from the latest Reason-Rupe poll showing 77 percent of libertarians supporting Romney—the highest percentage share of the libertarian vote of any Republican presidential candidate since 1980.

Many commenters on Twitter and Facebook were horrified! Surely, many reasoned, this large vote share is a measure of antipathy for Obama rather than affinity for Romney. Others commented that any libertarian supporting Romney doesn’t deserve to be considered a “true” libertarian.

I wanted to reflect on this last comment. Who should count as a libertarian?

In our Cato research, David Boaz, Emily Ekins and I have taken to using a relatively broad definition of a libertarian. Why? Compared to other political words like “capitalism” or “socialism,” fewer know the word “libertarian.” Many who hold libertarian views call themselves “moderate” or “independent” or even “conservative.” Few polls even offer respondents an option to identify themselves as “libertarian.” Those that do reveal confusion about what the word means.

How to win libertarians to the GOP (and how not to)

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.

On libertarians, Mitt Romney, and the future of fusionism

Mitt Romney

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.”

Should libertarians support Mitt Romney?

One of the biggest questions many libertarians are dealing with is who to support for president this year. The Libertarian Party has nominated a somewhat credible candidate, at least by his resume alone, in former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson. Some others are trying to mount a nationwide write in campaign to try and get Ron Paul elected, even though his campaign is over.

While our conservative friends are trying to persuade us to support Mitt Romney. Kurt Schlichter has written one of the more persuasive pieces over on Breitbart’s Big Government:

There is no more time for games, no room for hurt feelings. Ron Paul fans, you need to choose, because not voting for Romney is a vote for Obama. It’s that simple. And you could make the difference.
[…]
Making no choice in this election is a choice –it’s a choice for a collectivist who will get two or three Supreme Court picks over a man who picked a guy, Paul Ryan, who understands capitalism and its unbreakable link to human freedom. Now, this is a two-way street. Romney and Ryan need to reach out to libertarians over their common ground. Fortunately, there is lots of common ground.

No, the Republican Party is not a libertarian party, but it is the only party with any libertarian element. It’s the only place you have any chance of being heard. And with guys like Rand Paul and the libertarian-friendly Tea Party elements, you can be in the GOP.

Most of that is true. The Republican Party of the two major parties is the one that has a genuine libertarian element. The Democratic Party as seen in its convention is generally hostile to individual liberty.

 


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