Why Are Libertarian Party Candidates Always Republicans?

Libertarian Party: Just Kidding, We're Republicans!Speaking of conservatives who lie to themselves and the world, Ed Kilgore brought my attention to something, even if he didn’t note the irony, The Buses of Doom. It has to do with Bob Barr who is running for the Republican nomination for Georgia’s 11th District congressional seat. “What?” you say. “Wasn’t he the Libertarian Party Presidential candidate in 2008?” Why yes he was. I always find it interesting that libertarians always bounce around from the Libertarian Party to the Republican Party. That’s what Ron Paul did, after all. Yet if you talk to a libertarian, they’ll tell you that they dislike both the Republican and Democratic parties. They’re both evil in their own way!

Well, yes, theoretically, they are both evil in their own way. When it comes to police powers, civil rights, drugs, war, reproductive rights, and a whole lot more, the Democratic Party is far more libertarian than the Republican Party. On the other hand, when it comes to taxes (really only on the rich), the Republican Party is far more libertarian than the Democratic Party. Given this, you would think that when libertarians decide they wanted to be a part of the two-party system, they would go to the Democratic Party far more often than the Republican Party. But that isn’t the case. In fact, I don’t know of a Libertarian Party politician ever moving to the Democratic Party. And I think that tells you about all you need to know: lower taxes on the rich don’t just outweigh everything else, when you put them on a scale, the taxes issue causes all the other issues to fly into the stratosphere.

But that wasn’t even the irony I was talking about. Now that Bob Barr is a good Republican, he is freaking out about all them Latinos coming over the border. He even has a conspiracy, “As tens of thousands of illegals continue streaming across our southern border, citizens of Georgia are increasingly concerned that the Obama Administration is planning to surreptitiously ship many to locations in our state…” But he admits he could be wrong; it could be that the Obama administration has already done it in sneaky ways only Kenyans know about. This is ironic, because libertarians are supposedly for open borders. This is a big part of the Libertarian Party platform. Or at least it was when I was a fellow traveler. Regardless, the Libertarian Party is very pro-immigration and very anti-human trafficking, which is what this is all about anyway.

I don’t think any of this speaks badly of the Republican Party. It has its own problems, mostly focusing on being crazy, stupid, ignorant, shortsighted, hateful, and greedy. But I think this speaks terribly of the Libertarian Party. The long-time slog of the Libertarian Party is, “The Party of Principle.” But the truth is that they’ll allow anyone to run as a libertarian. When I was a libertarian, the party platform was pro-choice, but they nominated Ron Paul who was not just anti-choice, but rabidly so. Even though I normally voted straight Libertarian at that time, I did not vote for him.

Now we see that the 2008 Libertarian Party candidate is anti-immigrant. But it’s not just that. Bob Barr was a big sponsor of the Defense of Marriage Act, although he did apologize for that in 2008 when he was running as a libertarian. He voted for the USA Patriot Act, which again he claimed to regret when he was running as a libertarian. He was a strong supporter of the War on Drugs—until he was running as a libertarian. He so believed in religious freedom that he tried to “ban the practice of Wicca” at the Pentagon. That last one not only shows intolerance, but a strange interest in a tiny religious belief. Oh, one other thing: he is fanatically anti-choice. Now admittedly, he reversed his positions on the ones I mentioned. But he only did so right before running as a libertarian, and generally only after officially becoming a libertarian.

But none of that matters because Bob Barr is for repealing the 16th Amendment—you know: the income tax. And do you know why conservatives hate the income tax most of all? Because it is the one tax in the United States that is fairly progressive. And that’s the one thing that the Libertarian Party really believes in: reducing taxes in a way that shifts more of the burden onto the poor. And quelle surprise, that is exactly what the Republican Party stands for.

So the question for the Libertarian Party is: why do you exist? You might be the party of principle in theory, but in practice, you’re just the Republican Party. I know there are little things like unnecessary wars and constant surveillance and homophobia and a lot of other stuff that you don’t like about the Republicans. But that’s but a fly buzzing around the elephant of tax cuts that you do agree about. Stop pretending. I don’t like SPAM™, but that doesn’t stop me from shopping at the grocery store where they sell SPAM™. Or you could start walking the walk. But it’s been almost 43 years and you’re still a joke—a group of Rush Limbaugh listeners who consider yourselves iconoclasts. You’re wasting everyone’s time and money. A third party should stand for something other than a very minor variation of one of the major parties. The Peace and Freedom Party isn’t the Democratic Party Lite. When the Libertarian Party nominates established Republicans like Ron Paul and Bob Barr and Gary Johnson (Republican until 2011!) to run for President, they just show that they are a joke.[1]


I don’t mean to cast too wide a net here. I do think that about 5% of people who call themselves libertarians are serious about it. I think they are misguided, but they are honest brokers. And I was pleased that when I took the Libertarian Party ideology test, it not only correctly labeled me a “Left (Liberal)”; it also provided what I think is a pretty objective description of that ideology:

Liberals usually embrace freedom of choice in personal matters, but tend to support significant government control of the economy. They generally support a government-funded “safety net” to help the disadvantaged, and advocate strict regulation of business. Liberals tend to favor environmental regulations, defend civil liberties and free expression, support government action to promote equality, and tolerate diverse lifestyles.

Here is their slightly less objective description of “Right (Conservative)”:

Conservatives tend to favor economic freedom, but frequently support laws to restrict personal behavior that violates “traditional values.” They oppose excessive government control of business, while endorsing government action to defend morality and the traditional family structure. Conservatives usually support a strong military, oppose bureaucracy and high taxes, favor a free-market economy, and endorse strong law enforcement.

I’m not sure exactly who the “Statist (Big Government)” people are. Other than being for high taxes, they sound kind of like the Republican Party. But this description is okay:

Statists want government to have a great deal of power over the economy and individual behavior. They frequently doubt whether economic liberty and individual freedom are practical options in today’s world. Statists tend to distrust the free market, support high taxes and centralized planning of the economy, oppose diverse lifestyles, and question the importance of civil liberties.

Of course, where the test is least objective is in its description of “Libertarian”:

Libertarians support maximum liberty in both personal and economic matters. They advocate a much smaller government; one that is limited to protecting individuals from coercion and violence. Libertarians tend to embrace individual responsibility, oppose government bureaucracy and taxes, promote private charity, tolerate diverse lifestyles, support the free market, and defend civil liberties.

It is simply not true that, “Libertarians support maximum liberty in both personal and economic matters.” What is true is that, “Libertarians support maximum liberty in both personal and economic matters as far as the government is concerned.” Their definition of coercion is so narrow that virtually nothing fits in it. Suppose you were born to a family without property and every employment opportunity only allowed you a subsistence level of existence. By libertarian standards, there would be no coercion even though you had literally no choice. Also: there is absolutely nothing about libertarianism that implies the promotion of private charity; Ayn Rand was apoplectic on that issue; this is just a way for libertarians to pretend that they aren’t jerks. So even at it’s best, libertarianism is a silly ideology developed by people who would benefit from it without regard to its effects on society in general.

[1] Of the ten presidential candidates the Libertarian Party has offered, four of them have been explicitly Republicans. To be fair, Harry Browne ran twice and I generally think he is an honest libertarian. But even Michael Badnarik, who is not explicitly a Republican, is anti-choice in that he thinks that the states ought to have the right to force women to carry unwanted pregnancies. Well, sometimes. It really depends upon when you ask him. On the issue of abortion, what you see is the early candidates were pro-choice and the later candidates were anti-choice. That’s interesting because in the early days of the Libertarian Party, Republicans were generally pro-choice. So the evolution on abortion in the Libertarian Party has been the same as in the Republican Party. Regardless, in eleven elections, 36% of the Libertarian Party candidates have been explicitly Republican Party members.

Con Intellectuals Only Do Apologetics

John HoodI don’t have a problem with people disagreeing with me. There are times that I’m wrong. Here is a really embarrassing example: Chained-CPI Madness. If you look at that article, you will notice that right at the top I note the error that I made. The point is that I may have a political ax to grind (I do have a political ax to grind!) but it is based upon how I see the world. I would never intentionally manipulate data. I would never, for example, say that raising the minimum wage absolutely won’t cost jobs. But it is de rigueur for conservatives to claim that raising the minimum wage absolutely will cost jobs. The data are mixed, but they tend to side with me. If the data tended against me, I might still argue for raising the minimum wage; but I wouldn’t just quote the studies that agreed with me and pretend that the others didn’t exist.

This is my primary problem with the conservative movement. Look, I understand. If you pull a conservative and a liberal off the street, they will both spout a lot of nonsense. But when it comes to liberal intellectuals, a great deal of care is taken to get the facts right and to not deceive. That just isn’t true on the right. Except for Bruce Bartlett and Josh Barro (both of whom are far from perfect), I can’t name any major conservative thinkers who seem to care about getting the facts right. (And yes, I am especially thinking about Avik Roy.) Paul Krugman made note of this just today. Danny Vinik wrote an article where he pointed out that conservative wonks have abandoned Paul Ryan. But he noted that, “Ryan has long had passionate supporters among conservative intellectuals.” Krugman responded that it was always obvious that Ryan was a charlatan, noting, “And what does that say about the supposed wonks who passionately defended him?”

What it says is that the conservative intellectual class are themselves a bunch of ideologues who don’t care about having a real argument about policies. In other words: there is no major conservative intellectual movement; it is all apologetics. There is no greater example of this than John Hood’s recent The Wall Street Journal article, North Carolina Got it Right on Unemployment Benefits.[1] In the article, he argues that North Carolina was right to cut unemployment benefits because it really did encourage workers to go out and find jobs:

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of payroll jobs in North Carolina rose by 1.5% in the second half of 2013, compared with a 0.8% rise for the nation as a whole. Total unemployment in the state dropped by 17%, compared with the national average drop of 12%. The state’s official unemployment rate fell to 6.9% in December 2013 from 8.3% in June, while the nationwide rate fell by eight-tenths of a point to 6.7%.

That’s a whole lot of numbers, even for a math geek like me. Luckily we have the national treasure who is Dean Baker to cut through all these lying statistics. First, North Carolina grew by more than the nation, but this has been true for the last four decades. The southern states are seeing more growth. Compared to the rest of that southern region, North Carolina actually grew less. So much for lie number one.

Second, total unemployment in the state dropped a lot in the state. Why? Because people who claimed to be looking for jobs before (because they had to in order to get unemployment benefits) simply stopped looking for work. Thus: the unemployment rate went down, but actual unemployment did not go down. As Baker put it, “While the size of the labor force in the rest of the [southeast] region grew by 1.0 percent over the last year, the labor market shrank by 0.2 percent in North Carolina.” Baker concluded:

In short, if we look at the data instead of playing games with it, the story is pretty clear. There is zero evidence that cutting unemployment benefits in North Carolina or the rest of the country did anything to spur job growth. There is much evidence that it led those who saw their benefits to end to give up looking for work and to drop out of the labor force.

There are two possibilities for what is going on with John Hood. One is that he knows he is lying and he just sees himself as a good foot soldier in the ideological fight. But I think it is more likely that he is just a true believer and so regardless of what happened in North Carolina, he was going to hunt around and look for any bit of data that backed up what he knew to be true.

This is my problem with the conservative movement. What Hood did is pretty much what every conservative “thinker” does. Facts are simply things to be used to justify what they already know to be true. Facts are never used alter policy, much less to create it. And this is why our country is on the verge of political crisis. We have two political parties. One is the usual kind of mediocre mixed blessing. The other is crazy. And we have a mainstream media that insists that the two parties are mirror images of each other. During the most recent debt ceiling negotiations, the idea that it would be no big deal got a lot of coverage in the mainstream press. When facts are just an ideological plaything for half the political leaders of a nation, catastrophe is a constant threat.

[1] John Hood is president of the John Locke Foundation. This is something I really hate. Conservatives take people like John Locke, who were very liberal (and even radical) in their own time, and grab onto them. Yes, the conservatives have finally caught up to the liberal thinking of three and a half centuries ago. You can imagine in the year 2525, conservatives will start the Martin Luther King Foundation. I hate that conservatives do this: co-opt great liberal thinkers of the past. Note that no conservatives want to name their foundations after Thomas Paine because after two and a quarter centuries, they are still far behind his thinking.

Fedoras, Libertarians, and Russell Edson

FedoraI have one final article relating to yesterday’s brouhaha, but this one has nothing to do with David Weigel. I was having a nice conversation with Abenomix, and I happened to note that the grainy photo he uses (of himself I assume) would look like Sam Spade if you added a fedora. He tweeted back, “whereas I am certain it was not your intention to insult me, you did just manage to.” I immediately assumed it was the Sam Spade reference but it wasn’t. After a few more tweets, I learned from Matt Christman that, “Fedora = Bad.” When I asked for clarification, I was told, “Fedoras have become the online talisman of a certain strain of man-babyish libertarian white guy.”

I had no idea! I did, however, note that “libertarian implies man-babyish white guy.” But I can totally see this. What the bow-tie was to George Will and Tucker Carlson, the fedora has become to a younger generation. There is a slight problem, however. I went out looking for libertarians wearing fedoras and found that many of them were not wearing fedoras. Part of the problem is that people have started calling just about any similar hat a fedora. Both the Homburg and some styles of pork pie hat are misidentified as fedora. As you can see, I like hats. And it’s not just old style hats or western hats. Some Islamic followers wear the most gorgeous kufi caps. And it isn’t just men’s hats, either. Women are never as beautiful as when they wear hats. Hats are great!

But this revelation that libertarians (Abenomix brilliantly calls them “libertaryans”) are using fedoras as cultural signifiers is of great concern. And I can see why it is. Undoubtedly, they look back on what they consider the good old days when men were Humphrey Bogart and women were manipulative deceivers who get their comeuppance like Mary Astor. It also signals a kind of Eurocentrism. I don’t doubt that it is an intellectual response to the baseball caps worn by those “idiots” who don’t understand the libertarian utopia that awaits them if only they will wake up—and an anti-religious response to the growing popularity of kufi caps. (See my articles: The Atheist Libertarian Connection, Libertarianism Incompatible With Atheism, and Are There Libertarian Atheists?)

Russell EdsonThe facts of my life are that I almost never where any of my old fashioned hats. When I was younger, I was a bit of a dandy. Now I just don’t care. In fact, worse than that; mostly I wear badly damaged and worn baseball caps and the occasional communist workers’ hat. (I’m well aware that libertarians might soon start wearing them ironically.) But I still love the old hats and especially the fedora. But my love for the hats does not stem from old movies that I love. (Or more modern ones; see my thoughts on Miller’s Crossing.) It comes from a poet I discovered when I first went to college: Russell Edson.

Edson was (sadly, he died earlier this year) what I will call a surrealist poet. But I don’t know of anyone else who calls him this. No one is sure what to make of his work other than that it is brilliant and wonderful and beautiful. But the thing is, Edson had this thing about hats, most especially fedoras. When I first read him, I didn’t even know what a fedora was, so I had to look it up. And thus was born my love not just of fedoras but of all hats. Here is one of those poems from what was probably the first of his books I read, The Very Thing that Happens. This is “Someone”:

A man put a fedora on a cabbage, oh please be somebody I know.
Now who it is, as the brim is low, he cannot tell, but someone is certainly someone.
Someone, who are you?
Someone says nothing.
One and cabbage and now the moon. Round things are not unavailable in a square room.
The moon comes wearing a crown of clouds, worn too low to know who it is.

Or let us consider this much more recent poem, “Let Us Consider”:

Let us consider the farmer who makes his straw hat his
sweetheart; or the old woman who makes a floor lamp her son;
or the young woman who has set herself the task of scraping
her shadow off a wall….

  Let us consider the old woman who wore smoked cows’
tongues for shoes and walked a meadow gathering cow chips
in her apron; or a mirror grown dark with age that was given
to a blind man who spent his nights looking into it, which
saddened his mother, that her son should be so lost in

  Let us consider the man who fried roses for his dinner,
whose kitchen smelled like a burning rose garden; or the man
who disguised himself as a moth and ate his overcoat, and for
dessert served himself a chilled fedora….

My first reaction to the fact that libertarians had grabbed the fedora as a cultural signifier was more or less Bush the Elder’s, “This will not stand, this aggression against hats and poetry and all that is good.” But I’m not up for a pointless fight. In its way, it’s nice that libertarians have latched onto the fedora. It’s the most charming thing about them. And maybe Russell Edson predicted this: who is that fedora wearing cabbage? Why it’s the next Libertarian presidential candidate!

Brilliant and Strange Arthur Evans

Arthur EvansOn this day in 1851, the great archaeologist Arthur Evans was born. What I find fascinating about Evans is that he was an incredibly important scientist, and yet he was totally wrong in his central idea that the Minoan civilization was distinct from the Bronze Age Greeks who he thought were just a backwater. But that take on his career is undoubtedly colored by my love of the Iliad and my admittedly childish wish that it be true. But Evans really blasted Heinrich Schliemann’s idea that the Trojan War had taken place, and during Evans’ lifetime, it was generally thought that the war was a myth. Now the evidence is overwhelming that it was not—it was a real thing.

Of course, that was just one thing and he was hugely important, especially his excavation of Knossos. And he was the guy who first discovered early Bronze Age Greek writing. Of course, he was absolutely certain that it is was not Greek. And then right after he died, the linguist Alice Kober noticed that the language seemed to have the some words with different endings. This indicated that the language had inflections. For example: call, called, calling. This indicated that although the writing had more the look of Egyptian, it acted more like Greek or Latin. This clue led the brilliant young self-taught amateur linguist Michael Ventris to make some brilliant educated guesses, which eventually led to his discovery that the Minoans spoke Greek—or at least a very early form of Greek. (Ventris died in an auto accident at the age of 34, a couple of weeks before the official publication of this work, but by that time everyone in the field knew.)

All of this perhaps makes Evans seem less than a brilliant scholar. That is wrong. As for the writing, I think the man can be forgiven. Here is a little Linear B. It looks nothing like Greek to me. And I understanding the issue in translating is not really the look of the text, but this was a difficult problem that many great minds worked on with little success for 65 years.

Linear B

More important, Evans excavation of Knossos is arguably the greatest of any settlement ever. I’m especially interested in his work on the Neolithic settlements. It seems that around 9,000 years ago, a group of people arrived in Crete, most likely from the sea. Of course, Evans wasn’t really interested in the Neolithic settlements. His great interest was the palace that was first constructed around 4,000 years ago. I think I have a greater interest in the earlier periods because of the relative egalitarianism of it. It seems that as humans have advanced, they have used technology more and more to separate themselves. The rich were further above the poor 4,000 years ago than 9,000 years ago because they could be, not because they were better. This is a problem that haunts us more today than ever, and one I’m afraid that we must solve or will eventually destroy us.

Evans was also a curious fellow. He not only excavated the palace at Knossos; he restored parts of it as you can see in the following picture. I still don’t really get it. I guess it gives visitors a better idea of what it was like 3,000 years ago. But I doubt that’s why Evans did it. And that blue on the wall? I don’t think that flies. Homer lived a thousand years after the palace was abandoned, and he didn’t seem to know the color blue. Blue is a hard color to make, and only showed up much later. But what the hell?

Knossos Palace

Happy birthday Arthur Evans!