Paul Bibeau wrote a great short article, Liberals, Not Libertarians, Are The Ones Helping Us Avoid Getting Incinerated. It’s an issue that I’ve thought a lot about over the years. His focus was on Rand Paul. He noted, “He talks a good game, but when the Iran deal comes up for a vote, he’ll oppose it like any other Republican.” That’s right. Rand Paul is always in favor of libertarian policy in the abstract. He’s all against the idea of Guantanamo Bay, but against any actual policy that would close it. He’s against government surveillance, but when there is actual law to fight it, he’s against it. And he’s against foreign wars in the abstract, but is just as belligerent as the rest of the Republican field.
Bibeau makes a glancing blow to the common libertarian complaint that Paul isn’t a “true” libertarian, calling him “Libertarianesque.” But when exactly have we seen a “true” libertarian anywhere outside a Libertarian Party meetup? The “true” modifier is just a way for a very insular group to claim that its philosophy is only ever failed, it never fails. If libertarianism was anything like its proponents claim, then there would be an equal mixture of libertarians in the Republican and Democratic parties. But there aren’t.
My own experience in the Libertarian Party was that the vast majority of people were just disenchanted Republicans. In fact, there were almost no libertarians who came from the left. The ones who did were all there because they wanted drugs legalized. I was one of them. And it was telling seeing people in the party deal with the issue. They were clearly in favor of certain ideas: taxes are slavery; property rights are inviolable; the poor are losers; unions are terrible. And if the subject came up, they would grit their teeth, sigh, and admit, “Yes, our philosophy also says you should be able to have drugs.”
My issues were not just drugs. I cared deeply about civil rights and a humble foreign policy. But whenever any libertarian got traction, it was not because of issues like that. On the left, much was made of Rand Paul’s reluctance to say that he would support the Voting Rights Act. But the truth of the matter is that this position probably made Paul more popular, not less. Libertarianism owes most of its support in this country to neo-Confederacy. Many libertarians may not mean to imply oppression of minorities when they talk about “states’ rights,” but it is still a racist dog whistle.
My real break with libertarianism came when I saw that there was actual movement on drug laws: they were getting less harsh and cannabis was on its way to becoming legal. This certainly wasn’t due the Republicans. And the arguments being made were practical, so the changes weren’t even coming out of the intellectual framework of libertarianism. It was good old-fashioned liberalism that was improving the world. The high minded rhetoric of the Libertarian Party was fine, but it wasn’t moving society in a positive direction.
It was worse than that. By the time of my change, I had already noticed a problem with libertarianism: “Vote for libertarian rhetoric; get conservative policy.” This is something that immigrants especially fall for. They hear the Republicans talk about “freedom” and “small government.” So they vote for them. But somehow, they rarely manage to ever get past the rhetoric to seeing what the Republicans actually do. I don’t doubt that Rand Paul would be better on foreign policy than, say, Jeb Bush. But would he be better than Hillary Clinton? Almost certainly not.
I’m the first to admit that the Democratic Party is imperfect. But if a would-be libertarian is actually interested in better drug laws and less war, she should turn away from the Libertarian and Republican parties and accept that the Democratic Party is the best game in town.