I really, really don’t get the appeal of Mark Sanford to some libertarians. Then again, the fact that my best friend has taken a furlough (without time off, essentially amounting to unpaid labor) solely so the douche-nozzle can continue to grandstand as part of his quixotic effort to get the 2012 GOP presidential nomination might color my opinions somewhat.
The day Sanford or Sanford-lite (aka Rick Perry) identify a part of libertarianism they like other than “tax cuts” is the day that serious libertarians should to give them the time of day—and no sooner. I don’t expect that to happen any time soon.
Jim Babka, who if I recall correctly was once upon a time one of those Libertarian Party activists who turned my campaign contributions into about bupkiss, takes to the pages of Positive Liberty to advance the thesis that Ron Paul is the only Republican candidate who can win in November of next year. Commenter AMW presents the more compelling argument:
Alternative Hypothesis: Every politician represents a basket of goods to the voters, and while most voters can find at least one good in Dr. Paul’s basket that they approve strongly of, few can find enough to justify voting for him. The left may be anti-war, but I’m guessing they’ll prefer the candidate who advocates univeral [sic] healthcare, more spending on schools and a tough stance on the drug war, even if she’ll only make marginal changes to the Iraq strategy. And the knuckle-dragging mouth-breathers at Red State et al. would sooner trade in their AM talk-shows for NPR than give a “surrender monkey” like Paul the satisfaction of their vote, minimal government advocate or no.
I think the other thing that supporters of Paul are missing here is that not only are presidential candidates “baskets of goods,” they’re also strategic actors. The amount of daylight between the loophole-ridden Democratic withdrawal promises (arguably, every single American solider in Iraq is already engaged in one of counterterrorism actions, support of Iraqi forces, humanitarian projects, or stabilization operations—things that the leading Democrats all promise will continue) and the positions of the leading GOP contenders is already small, and given the progress—or lack thereof—in Iraq, any GOP—or Democratic—contender who secures the nomination can either take the tack of “the Iraqis are in control, so it’s time to bring troops home” or “the Iraqis have spent the last 9–12 months squabbling while the surge was giving them time to figure stuff out, and there’s no progress, so it’s time to bring troops home.”
2008 will be fought on energy policy, health care, trade, border security and immigration, and the foreign policy crisis of the week—which, dollars to donuts, won’t be Iraq by the time Labor Day 2008 rolls around. I have no doubt that whoever the eventual Republican nominee is will be far better positioned to capture the median voter on those issues than Paul is—America isn’t buying the Great Libertarian Offer, even when served with a side dose of Buchananite populism.
If you believe Billy Hollis, not much, although his practical positions on trade and immigration policy might appeal to some trade unionist elements of the Democratic coalition.
Part II in the Ron Paul series.
Hit and Run links a New Republic profile of Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul, popular with the right’s equivalent of the Netroots but apparently not attracting as many fans from libertarian ranks. Michael Crowley explains why:
But libertarians are a fractious bunch, and some hardcore activists have mixed feelings about the man now carrying their banner. For instance, libertarian purists generally support a laissez-faire government attitude toward abortion and gay marriage, as well as “open border” immigration policies and unfettered free trade. Yet Paul opposes gay marriage, believes states should outlaw abortion, decries high immigration rates, and has called himself “sort of” a protectionist. (These divergences may be explained by Paul’s socially conservative East Texas district, which lies adjacent to Tom DeLay’s former district and which President Bush last carried with 67 percent of the vote. Being pro-choice simply doesn’t fly there.)
As a result, Paul’s candidacy leaves some of his erstwhile libertarian fans cold—particularly the intellectuals who congregate in Washington outfits like the CATO Institute or Reason magazine. “He comes from a more right-wing populist approach,” explains Brian Doherty, a California-based Reason editor and author of Radicals for Capitalism, a history of the libertarian movement. “Culturally, he strikes a lot of the more cosmopolitan libertarians as a yokel.” (Doherty himself is a Paul admirer.)
And, while some libertarians criticize Paul from the left on social issues, others are swiping at him from the right over the war. “Will Libertarianism Survive Ron Paul?” asked one article on the America’s Future Foundation website, before continuing, “Paul’s prominence threatens to make his blame-America instincts the defining characteristic of libertarianism in the public imagination. If libertarianism becomes inextricably associated with radical pacifism, will young people with classically liberal instincts be discouraged from serious political engagement?”
The question facing this libertarian-minded voter who’s likely to vote in the GOP presidential primary: if I wasn’t inclined to vote for Pat Buchanan, why would I vote for Ron Paul, given that on almost all the issues that matter their positions are virtually indistinguishable?
How did I end up on the Libertarian circuit anyway? I am quite the bleeding heart; I give change to homeless people and play team sports and volunteer in a community garden and shit. It’s like I’ve fallen in with a bad crowd, just ‘cause they’re all funny and cool. Marginal Revolution is totally a gateway drug.
I’m not sure any of those things would qualify or disqualify anyone from being a libertarian (or even a Libertarian), since none of them have to do with the use of the government’s monopoly on the legitimate use of force to coerce certain individual behavior. No libertarian I’m aware of would forbid† Megan from giving change to homeless people, playing team sports, or volunteering in community gardens; nor would any* make her do any of those things.
† Hardcore Objectivists would probably make fun of her for doing some of these things, but one need not subscribe to Objectivist beliefs to be a libertarian. Thank God.
* Well, except a few liberals who like to call themselves “libertarian” because they’re for some unfathomable reason embarrassed to be known as liberals, like Bill Maher. But that’s a whole other kettle of fish.