David Atkins is now doing some of the weekend blogging over at Political Animal, and he brought my attention to a new Gallup Poll, Republicans Are Getting Left Behind, and “Independents” Won’t Save Them. The scare quotes around the word “independents” are there because as we should all know at this point, independents aren’t the lauded “swing” or “moderate” voters. Almost all of them are as reliably partisan as those who call themselves Democrat or Republican. For decades, my father has called himself an independent, but he’s as reliably a Republican voter as you are going to find.
My position on the issue is that calling oneself an independent is pretentious. We are all independent. I’ve never met a Democrat who agreed with the Democrats on every single issue. And that’s just as true for the Republicans. In fact, it’s probably more true of Republicans because I think the party is more out of step with its voters than the Democrats. Also, I think that calling oneself an independent is a cop-out. I think the same thing of the little parties. For years, I was a member of the Libertarian Party. But if I felt the same way ideologically today, I would not be a Libertarian; I would be a Democrat.
Now that might shock a lot of people. But in my experience, the Democratic Party is simply a lot better on the liberty issues that I care (and cared) about. The Republican Party is fundamentally an authoritarian group that is very big on foreign wars, tough police action, limiting women’s reproductive choices, and on and on. The one libertarian area where the Republicans ought to be good is taxes. And even on that, they are terrible. As I wrote last weekend, Reagan’s Legacy: Tax Cuts for Rich, Tax Hikes for the Rest. After eight years of his presidency, federal taxes on the rich went way down, but they went up on the average worker.
But my experiences in the Libertarian Party were that most of the people were disgruntled Republicans. They were not disgruntled because Reagan had raised their taxes, however. They had various reasons. But by and large, they didn’t even know Reagan had raised their taxes. In the Libertarian Party, Reagan had a fairly reasonable reputation. And if those people ever had to choose between one of the two candidates who might actually win, my guess was that 95% of them would vote Republican.
Why? What the Republican Party seems to believe is that mostly everyone in the middle is okay. The people at the bottom have far too much freedom. And the people at the top, well they might as well be in chains for all the freedom they have. As a libertarian, I never understood that. The Republican Party is fundamentally an outgrowth of John Adams and his royalist tendencies. (I don’t want to say Federalists, because now most of the Republicans have turned against the federal government for reasons I’ve written about elsewhere.) So for people who really want everyone to be as free as possible, the Republican Party is the worst party by far.
That small 5% group of what I would call the liberal libertarians: about 99% of them were there because they wanted drugs. And if you look around the nation, it has been the Democratic Party that has made progress on cannabis legalization, against the strongest of resistance from the Republicans. But it isn’t just that. If you look at the Gallup Poll, you will see where the Republican Party comes down on all kinds of freedom issues that the government really has no interest in. Only 60% of Republicans think divorce is morally acceptable. Only 54% think consenting but unmarried adults should be be able to have sex. Only 23% think that teenagers should be able to have sex with each other. And Republicans claim that they are the ones who see reality!
The fact is that when it comes to maximizing the liberty of everyday men and women, the Democrats are much closer to what I think of as libertarianism. But I’m fine with those pretenders—the neo-confederates who are the vast majority of so called libertarians—voting for the Republicans. The fight is inside the two party system. The only thing that third parties have ever done is grow big enough to be consumed by one of the big parties. And the Libertarian Party fits in really well with the Republican Party. That’s because the libertarians are very much like the conservative Christians. The Christian can tell you all kinds of things that he believes in, but the only thing he gets really worked up about is abortion (and homosexuality to a lesser extent). The libertarian can tell you all kinds of things that he believes in, but the only thing he gets really worked up about is marginal tax rates (and foreign wars to a lesser extent—maybe).
So admit the truth! You like Rand Paul. He’s a neo-confederate. He’s not for drug legalization. He’s anti-choice. But he does want to lower the top income tax rate. He does want to abolish corporate taxes. He does want to eliminate Social Security (whether he admits it or not). There’s your nationally viable libertarian presidential candidate. And if he gets the Republican nomination, almost all of you so called libertarians will vote for him. And you know what you’ll get if he wins? Just another conservative who limits the freedom of everyone except the very rich.
I think there is much good in libertarianism in its focus on freedom. I care about freedom. But I define it widely. It isn’t simply “the freedom of the richest people to keep as much money as they possibly can.” And since I care about freedom, I’m a Democrat. Of course, there are other things I care about like justice. But that also makes me a Democrat. The Democratic Party is not anywhere close to ideal. But there’s hope. Let the Republicans run wild and you’ve got fascism in America. And that ought to tell you quite a lot about American “libertarianism.”