Alan K. Henderson's Weblog


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Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Embracing The Dead Hand

Brink Lindsey ponders a libertarian-Democrat alliance (Link via Daniel Drezner, who links several analyses, and Truck and Barter). He is dismayed that "the [libertarian] movement's "fusionist" alliance between traditionalists and libertarians appears, at long last, to be falling apart." Logically, there are three choices. One is to abandon both parties, but as the Libertarian Party demonstrates, virtually no political power can be gained that way. The other choices are to choose between rebuilding the GOP alliance, or - as Brink postulates - to build a coalition with the Democrats. Actually there is a fourth, but I'll get to that later.

How does a Cato Institute guy come up with an idea like that? Is Brink Lindsey turning into Annakin Skywalker or something? A libertarian-Progressive alliance assumes that there is substantial common ground between the two. The most obvious problem with this is that liberals are enemies of free markets. The Democrats are the party of the Nixonian regulatory state and the Johnsonian welfare state, which collectively (no pun intended) represent the lion's share of policy issues. (Yes, Nixon was a Republican, but he wasn't a small-government conservative. And he didn't create those regulatory agencies all by himself - the Democratic Congress was a big part of it.)

Dems are constantly seeking to increase the tax burden, throwing an occasional bone to various pet constituencies (thus adding complexity to the tax code). As for free trade - a topic which Brink is quite familiar - the Dems are less reliable than the Republicans, given that unions are among the Democrats' staunchest supporters.

Libertarians want to reform education toward privatization of both ownership and the power to set curricula. The NEA and AFT want to preserve the power they derive from nationalized education, and their Democrat allies aren't about to turn their backs on that mission.

Libertarian ideas already have more inroads in the GOP than the Democratic Party, so libertarians would do better to keep their focus there. The Gingrich Revolution scored some early successes, but the Dems fought back and Republican conservatives eventually gave up on fiscal policy reform, aside from passage of Dubya's modest tax cut. The Democrat leadership has never aspired to fiscal sobriety.

Republicans are currently lacking two resources: courage, and a sufficient number of libertarians and conservatives. Conservative voter turnout has been eroding ever since 1996, because the GOP stopped fighting for lower taxes and lower spending. Bush sabotaged his party's future by turning into a spend-and-spend Democrat.

Setbacks don't have to be forever. The Republicans can make a comeback if they regalvanize conservatism. Libertarians should focus where antistatism is stronger, and that place is the GOP.

Or they can adopt the fourth alternative: work to influence both parties. Not all libertarians belong to the Libertarian Party, but it can play a key role. The LP needs to wake up to the reality that as a political party it cannot gain any significant power and this cannot effect any political reform. The LP must reinvent itself as an organization that recruits libertarian candidates to run for office in both parties. LP candidates can't win Congressional races, but libertarians can win as Republicans (like Ron Paul) or Democrats. Libertarians will find out soon enough which party is more amenable to their ideas.

There are certainly issues over which libertarians and conservatives disagree, one of which is also a bone of contention between libertarians and most liberals (the very existence of the War on Drugs). I will explore those at a later date.


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