There has been an interesting back and forth over the past couple days between Tim Carney of the Washington Examiner and Walter Olson and David Boaz of the Cato Institute. Carney started the exchange by writing a piece about this weekend’s protests against the Obama HHS birth control mandate. In the piece he said:
This truth needs to get out there. The media need to figure out who is imposing morality on whom. Libertarians need to reassess their allegiances on social matters. And cultural conservatives need to understand that government is inherently their enemy.
This brought a response first by Walter Olson who said after mostly touching on a recent case from New Mexico where a photographer was forced to photograph a gay marriage against their will:
As I understand it, the libertarian position is to prize religious liberty, while also disapproving the use of government as an instrument of culture war. That’s no contradiction. It’s the American way.
David Boaz then responded by illustrating how social conservatives have been recently trying to expand the state:
But what about conservatives? Are conservatives really the defenders of freedom? Carney seems to want us to think so, and to line up with conservatives “on social matters.” But the real record of conservatives on personal and social freedom is not very good. Consider:
I wrote a couple weeks ago about the Obama administration’s mandate that contraception be covered by insurance plans provided by Catholic-associated organizations. The outrage on the right about the mandate was almost universally centered around the idea that it was an attack on the freedom of religion. As I argued in my previous post, these critics were missing the point entirely. Mandates like this one had nothing to do with religion, and were wrong regardless of whether they violated religious or secular liberty.
Now many on the right have inexplicably chosen big-government “conservative” Rick Santorum as their standard-bearer. Despite his awful fiscal record, being named something other than Mitt Romney has allowed Santorum his time in the spotlight. And he has enjoyed every minute of it, offering soundbite-worthy quotes at nearly every event. Many of these statements have brought to light his very extreme views on social issues.
Predictably, Santorum’s views on things like abortion, homosexuality, and contraception have caused an uproar amongst those who do not share his worldview. Santorum has been savaged for things he has said both recently and in the past. Whether or not you believe him to be a sexist or a homophobe, it’s clear that his opinions are not shared by millions of Americans, and in fact cause great offense to many.
Rand Paul has generally been a good ally for libertarians in the Senate. However, much like his father, he has more than a shade of social conservative in him. Sadly, this side has been rearing its head more often lately.
Last month, Senator Paul made some very offensive remarks regarding President Obama’s endorsement of gay marriage, stating he didn’t think the president’s views “could get any gayer”. And now, the Senator is trying to attach a totally irrelevant “personhood” amendment to an unrelated bill.
For those not familiar with these laws, the intent is to define life as beginning at fertlization. The effect would be to not only make abortion totally illegal, but to also have an impact on such things as contraception, some fertility treatments, and some forms of stem cell research. Suffice it to say it could have ramifications far beyond abortion and would likely be an unmitigated disaster. It certainly is not the kind of thing someone who believes in a limited federal government would propose.
Now, I am definitely more sympathetic to the pro-life cause than most libertarians. I believe the country would be better off moving towards a mindset that views abortion as something to be avoided. While I don’t believe it will ever go away, there is nothing wrong in my mind with making the case it is morally objectionable. However, my support comes to an abrupt halt when things like this are suggested. There are few problems that are best solved through heavy-handed government action; and the problems that the federal government should attempt to solve are even more sparse.
As we head into the South Carolina primary where former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum may still have a shot at the GOP nomination, it’s worth recalling what Sen. Santorum had to say about libertarians and others who favor limited government during an interview with NPR in August 2005:
One of the criticisms I make is to what I refer to as more of a Libertarianish right. They have this idea that people should be left alone, be able to do whatever they want to do, government should keep our taxes down and keep our regulations low, that we shouldn’t get involved in the bedroom, we shouldn’t get involved in cultural issues. That is not how traditional conservatives view the world. There is no such society that I am aware of, where we’ve had radical individualism and that it succeeds as a culture.
This has rightly riled many libertarians, who insist that the “radical individualism” derided by Santorum was the basis for the American experiment. But libertarians should really be thanking Rick Santorum. He’s provided us with a valuable reminder that far from being a limited government ally of libertarianism, traditional conservatism is actually inimical to libertarian principles. Traditional conservatism was America’s first statist, big government ideology.
Over the last few weeks, Rick Santorum has made it increasingly clear that he is not a libertarian. We already knew this. Last summer, Santorum expressed concern about libertarian influence inside the Republican Party, not just in terms of our views on social issues, but he seems to have rejected economic views in the Tea Party movement:
Without question, Santorum’s record is one of supporting big government. As noted last week, he likes to knock others on entitlements, but never seems to own up to his own support for expanding them. Others in the conservative movement are noting Santorum’s backing for increased government power in the economy.
The list I have to choose from for president in 2012 is steadily shrinking. The latest name to be scratched off the list? Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC). While appearing last night on Special Report w/ Bret Baier, DeMint said, “you can’t be a fiscal conservative without being a social conservative”:
Now, this is something he has said before. At the Value Voters Summit in September, DeMint said, “it’s impossible to be a fiscal conservative unless you’re a social conservative because of the high cost of a dysfunctional society.” I was hoping it was a moment of pandering, but it looks like I was wrong.
In responding to DeMint and other social conservatives shortly after comments made in September, David Boaz, executive vice-president of the Cato Institute, wrote: