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Libertarianism


Liz Mair over at GOPProgress.com has taken a look at Kos’s argument that the Democrats are more libertarian friendly. Kos argues:

This is really about the future of the [Democrat] party, rather than what it has traditionally been.

So all those libertarians seeking some pandering, too bad. This isn’t about you. It’s about us. Now libertarians have a choice ‚Äî continue to be taken for granted and pandered to inside a Republican Party hostile to just about everything important to libertarians, or help fuel the libertarian left. Of course, they can vote big “L” Libertarian or sit elections out. But if they want to have a real effect on the political process, the two major parties are pretty much it. And, fact is, one party is moving closer to traditional libertarian principles while the other is moving away from them.

It really is sort of a ridiculous argument that ignores a) the foundations of the two political parties, b) the recent history of the two major political parties, and c) the difference between national politics and local politics.

Historical Perspective

The two major parties were formed by an debate inherent in divided government. As the Union came together, there were those who believed in a strong federal government with subservient state governments and those who believed in stronger local government with the federal government given only such power as the states see fit. For libertarians, and most Republicans, the constitution, with the adoption of the 10th Amendment, is pretty clear on this.

The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.

In other words, the constitution lays out several specific things the states are not allowed to do. The rest fall into two buckets, what the federal government is allowed to do (a limited set) and everything else.

The Democrats have always been the party that favored a strong federal government. They fought for a stronger central government and every time they have had power, they have sought to expand it.

Recent History

I’ll define this as the last 100 years, though arguably you could shorten it beyond that. Given presidential terms are 4 years, and the tendency within the last 100 years has been toward re-election of incumbents, this takes us back 18 Presidents out of 43.

In that time, the vast majority of republican presidents understood and fought for the rights of states while the vast majority of Democrat presidents have pushed for expansion of the federal government.

For instance, FDR felt the answer to the Depression was to grow the federal government by expanding programs and increasing taxes. The widely held perception, and what is usually taught in school, is that these programs ended the Depression. Unfortunately, and libertarians recognize this, it just isn’t true. The Second World War ended the Depression. Unemployment was still north of 17% (from a high above 25%) when the war began. It was massive spending on war, not the New Deal, that ended the depression.

Lyndon Johnson, and even Bill Clinton, recently attempted to grow the government even further. Johnson and the Great Society and Clinton’s attempt (ill-fated) at universal (socialized) health care were efforts to grow government.

Republicans, by comparison, have almost always opposed this.

The Democrats like to claim that Clinton was fiscally conservative and reformed Welfare and fixed entitlements. They conveniently forget that his first two years exhibited no such restraint and it was only with the election of GOP majorities that he began to rein himself in. This was not done because of his belief in small government, it was a matter of calculated political expediency.

Clinton knew the Presidency may have the power of the bully pulpit, but that and $3.50 will get you a grande latte. He knew the Republicans were going to pass reform, and had the Democrat votes necessary to get it through. His choices were to spend 2-6 years as a lame duck exercising veto after veto, or to “embrace” reform, and try to take credit for Congress’ action.

He chose the latter.

Despite the Bush Administration’s hands-off approach to the reins of government spending, the party, historically, has generally held true to its principles. Even George H. W. Bush was wracked with conflict over his decision to raise taxes. His advisers had convinced him it had to be done, and it cost him. It was libertarian Republicans that shunned 41 when he stepped on his “read my lips” pledge.

Reagan, who Democrats like to blame for out of control deficits in the 1980s, was true to libertarian concepts. Unfortunately, the Democrats in Congress were not. It is laughable for anyone to claim that budgets pronounced “dead on arrival” by a Democrat Congress were somehow responsible for out of control spending. It was the Democrat versions of the budget that passed, not the GOP versions.

If Democrats have never been accepting of libertarian philosophy, why are they finding success in the West?

National Versus Local Politics

The reason Democrats in the west are successful is because they are not running on the same agenda the National Democrats are pursuing. The lefty blog community likes to crow about the success of Ned Lamont and others. They like to point out that their national candidates do better when they run further to the left.

Local candidates, especially, would find that hard to do. Universal Health Care, expanded federal programs, and increased regulation are as antithetical to the interests of the west as you can get.

Nobody has ever won an election in Montana by arguing that we need more environmental regulation (a staple of the Democrats national platform). Nobody has ever won an election in New Mexico claiming we need more federal bureaucrats telling ranchers how to run their business.

Rural America turned its back on the Democrats for exactly that reason. Those are policies favored by people in large cities who have never made a living off the land. Those are policies created by people whose concept of the West is their Aspen ski vacation every year.

Those are Kos’ people, and that is Kos. He claims to be a libertarian Democrat, but his formative years were spent in San Francisco, Boston and Chicago – hardly the west. His whole post embodies why the libertarians feel more comfortable with the GOP. He, with almost no experience actually living in the west, treats those who do live there as stupid. “You should vote the way I tell you because we’re better for you.” It’s the same ridiculous attitude that Democrats always adopt with heartland voters. It’s the same attitude Zack Exley railed about a few weeks ago.

I, on the other hand, spent 30 years in Colorado, New Mexico, and Arizona (beginning at birth, in that order). I am the libertarian west. I don’t try to convince my liberal friends that they’re stupid. I just accept the fact that they are misguided. I would not push the button for a Democrat running for national office. I’ll vote for them locally, based on local issues. I’ll elect them to the legislature, the state attorney general, even the governor’s office – again, all based on local issues.

Unfortunately, something happens when Democrats have aspirations for federal office. They begin to accept that northeastern liberal philosophy as somehow valid. They begin to believe that what is needed back home is more government, more regulation, and more intrusion by the federal government.

For Kos to claim that libertarian Republicans should look to Democrats as their salvation because of the current crop of Republicans is idealistically simplistic and not convincing. If you were a vegetarian, would you consider eating nothing but meat simply because you got a bad salad? I suspect not.

Sorry Markos, peddle your hamburger elsewhere.



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Written by Michael Turk