Sad Result When Libertarians Get Practical

Nick GillespieJonathan Chait made an excellent catch this morning, Confused Libertarian Demands Obama Become Strongman. The “confused libertarian” is Nick Gillespie who has been running Reason Magazine basically his whole life. But Chait is a little wrong in saying that Gillespie wants Obama to become a strongman. Instead, Gillespie is being petulant in, Let Us Be Clear: Obama Deserves Chief Responsibility for Gov’t Shutdown.

Basically, Gillespie’s argument is this: “President Obama claims he can unilaterally kill American citizens, so why doesn’t he just ‘kick some asses’? Huh? What do you got to say to that tough guy?!” The question is whether Gillespie is really that ignorant of how our government is supposed to work. Based upon years of reading him, I would have to say that he is. Most libertarians know very little about our form of government. Just like Christians who never read the Bible, libertarians generally show a shocking lack of knowledge of the Constitution, except in the most limited form of quoting, “Congress shall make no law…”

In his article, he is clearly confused about the budget process. He notes (in very confusing prose) that the Senate only this year passed a budget—something they didn’t do for the four previous years. Well, there are reasons for that. One of them is that budgets are settled these days with continuing resolutions, which say that we will continue funding the government as we have been because we can’t agree on anything else. As Chait notes:

Gillespie’s entire rant is beside the point, because the lack of a negotiated budget is not the cause of a shutdown. Budget conferences are designed to set long-term federal budget policy. Keeping the government open doesn’t require that. You just need to pass a “continuing resolution.” That’s it. Pass the CR, and the government stays open, and then you can either negotiate or not negotiate the federal budget.

But Gillespie’s article is boilerplate. All he is really communicating is that he doesn’t like Obama. He also uses the opportunity to take a swipe at Bush. This is a common libertarian line, “Don’t blame me, I voted libertarian!” These people are making the same mistake that, say, Bill O’Reilly makes when he calls Obama a socialist. Does Gillespie really think that Obama is every bit as bad as Bush? My guess is that he doesn’t, but he pretends that there is no difference and proudly claims that no one he’s ever voted for has won. But all that does is take him outside the political world where he can snipe at the candidates who do win.

And that is all Gillespie is doing in his Reason column: sitting back and yelling at the people who are actually involved in running the government. That doesn’t mean there isn’t an important roll for ideologues in our political process. They do, after all, push and pull the ideological center of gravity in the country. But when they start talking about practical issues like continuing resolutions and government shutdowns, they are just like hecklers at a comedy club or sporting event. And that’s just sad.


I just came upon a page where Leonard Peikoff argued for a Romney vote last year. His position was that Obama was more effective at leading us to “tyranny” than Romney would be. He also said that he would vote for whatever Republican was running for the House because it would limit Obama if he were re-elected. This is another ideologue getting into practical politics. If Romney had won, it is certain that the Republicans would have held both houses of Congress. And thus, Romney would have pushed us very very fast toward “tyranny.” But that’s the kind of conclusion you come to when you assume that the two sides are interchangeable.

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

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