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.

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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.

0 thoughts on “Why Are Libertarian Party Candidates Always Republicans?

  1. Strange quiz. They have ten questions to get to know you and one of them is about the "national ID card". And nothing about fiat money. The last time I heard anyone rant about the national ID card was my mother in, I’m guessing, 1975. No doubt she had picked it up from a WSJ editorial. I also remember her snarling "God damn government in my car!" in response to the new "fasten seat belt" buzzer feature. Amusing because Mom never learned how to drive and never earned a wage after marrying my father. Having seen the world change from a time when respectable looking (white) people could present a check without question or concern to the very different world we have now, I believe it is the demands of commerce, and not government, that have brought us here. And if we are going to need to have official photo (or biometric eventually) identification, why not standardize it? Conservatives, of whom libertarians are reliably a subset, have strange boogeymen. Much of it probably comes of being a movement of people who were my age in the 1970’s.

  2. I also used to be a libertarian and I have become more of a liberal. I made the shift because there is almost a gravitational pull that forces libertarians to choose between civil and human rights on the one hand and lower taxes on the other. I choose the former and most choose the latter.

    I suppose this was all predestined. I became a libertarian due to a serious desire to see social justice served. Living in LA, I saw a city and a State that was dominated by liberals and yet, there is vast inequality in this State and in Los Angeles. I still support many of the libertarian ideas that actually help and protect ordinary people as well the most vulnerable in society. I even go for legit economic freedom issues e.g. It should be easier for people, especially poor minorities, to practice a trade without an expensive license or to conduct barbering out of their homes or make street food without being harassed by the police (of course, most "libertarians" never talk about economic freedom as it relates to the little people).

    As important as negative rights are, one simply cannot deny the importance of positive rights. I want to see an increase in freedom, an increase in practical freedoms for the masses and negative rights alone just cannot do that. Therefore, pure libertarianism simply does not maximize freedom across an entire populace. It doesn’t even come close, unless you limit your definition of a populace to the other rich, white, straight, able bodied males in your gated community.

    It is also noteworthy that the minority of libertarians, those who become liberal, say that they were wrong and that they had to revise their opinions. On the other hand, the majority of libertarians, those who become conservative, rarely admit that they have changed. They try to recast their authoritarian views on everything, aside from taxation, as something that actually does promote liberty.

    They say that a fetus has human rights. They say that militarized police are great because they are needed to protect private property. They say that the war on drugs promotes liberty because drug addiction robs you of your personal autonomy. They recast our record setting prison population as adherence to "rule of law." They claim that illegal immigration must be stopped because it strains the welfare state and would lead to more big government.

    I am not interested in playing the purity game with them but I ask them why don’t they just register as Republicans. They always claim that they are still serious libertarians. I suppose that never admitting to being mistaken is the biggest hallmark of being conservative.

  3. My thought is, many Americans are brought up to distinguish between The Flesh and The Spirit. People brought up this way usually identify with The Spirit.

    The Flesh is … ordinary, real life stuff. Rock ‘n’ Roll, beer before and after supper, early marriage and casual infidelity, and dying broke. The Spirit is intellectualism and its various rewards, like science and college going and academic life and religious faith and all those places where intellect can lead.

    I don’t want to go into a big song and dance about how identifying with Flesh or Spirit determines one’s party identification, because it’s probably complex. I just want to make the point that Orthodox Republicanism is pretty heavily tied to Spirit. And Libertarianism is pretty well oriented that way. So libertarians can feel a sort of alignment with Republicans, even if they differ on details, because they’re both guided by what goes on in their heads rather than what’s in their guts.

    This isn’t Real Science, I know. I’m sorry. It’s my gut speaking.

  4. @Lawrence – Yeah, the libertarian obsession with the gold standard makes no sense. (I think it isn’t on the test because it’s too abstract; good call, IMO.) They think it means that the government can’t cause inflation, but there are various examples of gold booms totally destroying currencies. As it was, when we were on the gold standard, the government set its price, anyway. I don’t want to be mean, but most libertarian thought is too simplistic. It is based upon a civilization that is very small. The Federal Reserve didn’t just happen; it wasn’t a nefarious conspiracy to steal the wealth of hard working Americans. And in fact, since we went off the gold standard (not the same thing–I’m jumping) inflation has generally been lower and things have been better for people. But for some people, it will always be 1978.

    I understand where your mom is coming from. I think the last 50 years have been even harder on men. But there is no going back, and a libertarian "utopia" would be revolutionary and basically everyone would hate it.

  5. @mike shupp – Yeah, I think you need to work that out a bit more. It seems like there is something you are getting at but you aren’t quite there.

    I think it is all about rhetoric. Republican [i]rhetoric[/i] is all about small government and personal responsibility. But if you look at what Republicans actually do, you will see that they are as much for big government as are Democrats. It is just a question of what that government should do. And one of the big things they want the government to do is make sure their rich friends are never held accountable.

    I was a Democrat and I became a libertarian because I really cared about individual freedom and civil rights. But in the end, I found that these things really weren’t that important to libertarians. It is also the case that the Libertarian Party was started by a group of Republicans who were unhappy with Richard Nixon. But I do want to make a distinction between the belief and the party.

    What bugs me about libertarianism more and more is that there is no ethical underpinning to it. Sure, they have some ideas, but there aren’t actual first principles. Let’s suppose my great-great-great-grandfather killed a hundred people and took over their land which was eventually left to me. According to libertarian theory, it is the government’s proper role to see that I maintain control of that land. That’s madness. What about the birthright of every child born? Why don’t they have an equal claim on the resources of the earth? I have read a [i]lot[/i] of libertarian theory and I’ve never read anyone who dealt with this issue. What it means is that libertarianism just becomes a system to ossify the status quo. So who exactly gains from libertarianism depends entirely upon when it takes effect. That’s madness. And note who is in favor of libertarianism: the upper classes and people who want to smoke pot.

    Above all, I’m not a libertarian because I don’t think there is such a thing as a perfect system. I think we have whatever system we have and we try to make things better. And really, if libertarians get control and make marginal changes, what would they be? They would be lower and more regressive taxes. That would be the main thing. If they were in power for 20 years, they [i]might[/i] finally get around to legalizing drugs. So it would be, step alpha: help the people who are doing the best; step omega: help the people who are doing the worst. I don’t really care about the utopia libertarians want to create. In a practical sense, they would make the world far worse before they made it better, if they ever made it better. And I don’t think they ever would make it better.

  6. @Colin Keesee – Wow, I totally agree. As one who has started many small (mostly successful) businesses over the years, it totally bugs me that the government requires the same stuff from me that it does from companies that can afford their own lawyers and CPAs. One thing I love about the Latino community is how they start up restaurants and clothes stores right out of their own apartments. It is totally cool. (And illegal!) And you are right: libertarians never seem concerned about these people. No, they’re concerned that the corporate income tax is too high. As though a corporation is anything but a special [b]government[/b] provided legal status.

    I think our political evolution is very similar. If you haven’t read it, I do recommend that anyone seriously interested in these kinds of issues read Thomas Paine’s [url=https://www.socialsecurity.gov/history/paine4.html]Agrarian Justice[/url].

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