Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Libertarians divorcing GOP?

Those of you who have been here long enough know that while I usually side with the GOP, I've had my ample share of disagreements with the party on a number of issues and votes. As Bruce Bartlett shows, I am not the only libertarian/neo-libertarian who has grown tired of the GOP in recent years. Via RCP:
For many years, those who consider themselves to be libertarians have been fairly reliable members of the Republican coalition. Although no libertarian would consider himself or herself to be entirely in agreement with either major party, they have historically sided with the GOP. But the relationship today seems more deeply strained than any time in the last 30 years, and a divorce may be forthcoming.

Basically, libertarians are allied with the right on economic issues and the left on everything else. They believe in the free market and freedom of choice in areas such as drugs, and favor a noninterventionist foreign policy. Consequently, someone who is a libertarian could prefer to ally with the right or the left, depending on what set of issues is most important to him or her.
This is most certainly true. Many libertarians care more about the economic freedom policies usually (or should I say "formerly") championed by the GOP: limited federal government spending, low taxes, personal savings accounts for retirement and health care, no government monkeying with the marketplace, etc. Other libertarians care more about isolationism and non-military actions abroad, as well as hedonistic self-indulgence measures, usually favored by Democrats: opposition to nearly every war, support for decriminalizing drugs, staying out of the sexual proclivities of consenting adults, etc. Most libertarians/neo-libertarians care about all of those things, but place different priorities on them. Continuing:
In 1969, the key issue was obviously the Vietnam War. The traditionalists supported it, the libertarians opposed it. But drugs were also an important issue dividing the groups. Libertarians believe people have the right to do what they want with their own bodies, even if they end up hurting themselves in the process. Traditionalists take a more Puritanical approach, believing that people must be protected against their own folly.

Consequently, when I first became acquainted with libertarianism, most libertarians tended to associate with those on the left, where they had more in common. But with the end of the Vietnam War and the huge rise of inflation and other economic problems in the 1970s, libertarians mostly tended to drift rightward.

In the 1970s, the left was clueless about how to fix the economy. They had no idea what was causing inflation and insisted on dealing instead with its symptoms through wage and price controls. The left at that time was also highly sympathetic to socialism and often favored nationalization of businesses like the Penn Central Railroad when bankruptcy threatened.

The right at least understood that excessive money growth by the Federal Reserve caused inflation, and that socialism and nationalization were crazy. So most libertarians moved into the Republican Party, which then had leaders like Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan, who spoke their language and had libertarian sympathies.
Libertarians once allied with the left, then subsequently allied themselves with the right. And now...
With the passing of the older generation of Republican leaders who were at least sympathetic to the libertarian message, a new generation of Puritans have taken over the party. They seem to want nothing more than to impose Draconian new laws against drugs, gambling, pornography and other alleged vices. The new Republican Puritans don't trust people or believe that they have the right to do as they please as long as it doesn't hurt anyone else. They want the government to impose itself on peoples' lives and deny them freedom of choice.

At the same time, the Iraq War has aroused the isolationist impulse among libertarians. Only a tiny number of them supported the war in the first place, and they have all now recanted. Moreover, Republicans have lost whatever credibility they once had on economics by indulging in an orgy spending and corruption, and by becoming very unreliable allies on issues such as free trade and government regulation of the economy.

Consequently, many libertarians are drifting back once again to the left, where they find more compatible allies on some of the key issues of the day. And a few on the left are reaching out to libertarians, or at least trying to open a dialogue where there really hasn't been one for a long time.

Libertarians probably don't represent more than 10 percent of the electorate at most and are easy for political consultants to ignore. But they are represented in much larger percentages among opinion leaders and thus have influence disproportionate to their numbers. Republicans will miss them if they leave the party en masse.
Granted, it may be a long time (if ever) that a true libertarian gets elected to national office (Senator, Congressman, or President), but there were a lot of races in this year's Democratic rise that saw the incumbent Republican narrowly lose. I assure you that in a number of these races (especially in Senate races in MT and VA, not to mention countless House races), libertarians were crucial in the outcome, either by voting Democrat or not voting GOP. Republicans, ignore them at your peril.