Monday, December 04, 2006

How Liberal?

The Volokh Conspiracy is buzzing with debate about whether (little "l") libertarians should jump ship and support the Democratic Party. Prompted by this Cato dispatch, the Volokh bloggers consider whether a liberal-libertarian alliance could do more to advance classical liberal thinking ... and come to an obvious conclusion. To wit, civil liberties would be advanced by punishing the "Party of Lincoln" (yes, at least insofar as the only three presidents to have puportedly suspended habeas have all called themselves "Republicans"). But free markets? Isn't the first thing on the new Congress' agenda a significant hike in the federal minimum wage? We remain as conflicted as ever.

As a matter of practical politics, I'd say the discussion is more important than it might at first seem. While Cato research indicates 13% of voting-age Americans have a libertarian bent, (big "L") Libertarians--all 235,540 of them--commanded but 2% of the vote in the mid-terms.


Cato said...

I think the general consensus among small "L" libertarians ended up being to support the Democrats, this time. That is highly likely to change next election cycle, if the Democratic presidental candidate looks likely to win or even if the Republican candidate looks to be distinct enough from Bush and the neocons.

Wesley Hottot said...

Indeed the Cato numbers bear that out, and make the same prediction ... seems to me post-election analysis withdrawal ... libertarians are going to keep voting either as independents (as in this cycle) or as staunch conservatives.

That being said, the GOP is no longer the party of limited government ... and as the government grows ... so too may the big "L" base.

Orrin Johnson said...

The difference is that the GOP will eventually cycle back to the party of limited government - our two parties are here to stay, but their motivating philosophies (in practice) are more fluid. Democrats will always start with the idea that government is the answer to solve all of life's "unfairness," while Republicans wander there after getting fat on power. The difference is that every 10-15 years or so, Republicans get serious about limiting the size of government (Goldwater, Reagan, Gingrich), while the Democrats never will (unless it's cutting the military a la Clinton), since big government is their overt opening argument.

The problem with Big L Libertarians is that they see themselves as outside the system. They take weird pride in it. They would be far more successful in advancing their policies if they supported and even ran as economically libertarian Democrats or (more likely to be successful) socially libertarian Republicans. They still wouldn't get their way 100% (nobody does), but they'd be better off than playing the Dem and GOP extremes off each other and hoping for the best, all the while complaining about not being able to break into the system.

Libertarianism will be better off when libertarians understand their power lies in being a voting block, not an outsider spoiler party. The system is the system - they can either work within it and move the political center of the country their way, or stay outside of it and see their commendable ideals continue to be largely ignored by both parties.