In the 1950s and ’60s, libertarians, social conservatives, and anti-communists found enough common cause to create a robust new postwar conservative movement. The cobbling together of this disparate coalition, a process National Review editor Frank Meyer dubbed “fusionism,” came to reshape the Republican Party and America itself. By the height of the Reagan Revolution, the three legs of this political stool—fiscal conservatism, social traditionalism, and military strength—seemed sturdy enough to last a generation. But it would soon tip over.
The end of the Cold War removed fusionism’s strongest glue. Governing Republicans, including the revered Ronald Reagan, walked away from the project of deregulating and downsizing government. Militarism and nation building became core conservative values, even after the vanquishing of the superpower foe. Under George W. Bush and a Republican Congress, this all added up to a big-government interventionism anathema to the ideals of freedom and limited government. The predictable result: Libertarians left the big tent.
Then along came President Barack Obama and a new Democratic Congress. They quickly made George W. Bush look like a penny-pincher. As a broad backlash against big government has gathered force, the Tea Party and the Ron Paul movement have helped inject libertarianism back into conservatism. So does that mean fusionism is making a comeback?
That was the backdrop behind two debates in February between reason editors and prominent conservative commentators. At Colorado’s Independence Institute, reason.tv and reason online Editor in Chief Nick Gillespie clashed with right-wing controversialist Ann Coulter over the question, “Can fiscal and social conservatives pull together in 2012?” Meanwhile, at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) in Washington, D.C., reason Editor in Chief Matt Welch debated AEI scholar and National Review Contributing Editor Jonah Goldberg on the question, “Are libertarians part of the conservative movement?”
Below are edited transcripts of each debate, covering Mitt Romney, Barack Obama, drug policy, traditional values, and, above all, the fiscal calamity America faces if it doesn’t quickly and firmly change course.
Welch vs. Goldberg
Matt Welch: I would like to register a complaint. You got the name of the panel wrong. It [should have been] “Are Conservatives Part of the Libertarian Movement?” We keep asking ourselves this question.
Basically, the reason we’re here in 2012 with this overflow crowd at AEI talking about this is that we’re all facing an interesting paradox: At the precise moment that the GOP is becoming more recognizably libertarian, or accepting or thinking libertarian thoughts, libertarians are becoming less and less inclined to accept the GOP. That’s actually a rational outcome of a series of things.
From 1997, let’s say, to 2010, it’s been pretty rough going for libertarians who want to consider themselves part of the conservative movement. Libertarians have been singled out by name by the last several torchbearers of the Republican Party. John McCain, in his book Worth the Fighting For (which is a terrific book if you haven’t read it), talked about how he disagreed a lot with George W. Bush, but he said we both agree that it’s important to reject this leave-us-alone libertarian idea for the GOP. I would argue that under Republican leadership (and Jonah would argue this too), for most of the George W. Bush era, we saw the fruits of this explicitly anti-libertarian thought. Spending went up 60 percent in real terms. No Child Left Behind. I don’t have to bore you with all the details…but let’s mention some of them, for crying out loud.
The Medicare Part D prescription drug benefit. A lot of war making and lowering of the bar for interventions going forward. These are things that libertarians have not been happy about for years. They’ve been marginalized for a long time.
But whenever a major political party loses power, libertarianism looks a lot more dreamy than it did before. Believe it or not (and I’m having a difficult time even reciting this), around 2004 or 2005, Democrats were going through a “maybe we should be libertarian Democrats” phase. Markos Moulitsas had a “libertarian Democrat” manifesto that was supposed to turn into a book that, thankfully, never got published.
We need to remind ourselves that even in this completely favorable climate—you have a lousy president, you have a lousy economy, Democrats running everything—Republicans are bleeding market share. They’ve lost 800,000 registered Republicans since 2008, specifically in swing states. Democrats have done worse, deservedly and understandably so. But Republicans are losing market share, especially among young voters.
At the same time, America is becoming more libertarian. The Tea Party might not itself be a group of libertarians hanging out—it’s not exactly the Free State Project—but a lot of the goals embraced by the Tea Party are explicitly libertarian: reducing the size and scope of government, which is a project that Republicans lost interest in.
Jonah Goldberg: I would just sort of “ditto” a lot of the different things Matt said. I thought his book was great and made a lot of great points, and I agree with a whole lot of it. In fact, I’ll go further: The parts where I think Matt is wrong, I wish he was right. But he is not.
It’s obviously true that the libertarian movement is not part of the conservative movement at all, except for four minor areas. They are: historical, philosophical, political, and practical. And other than that, they are as different as night and day.
Let’s start off with the historical. Matt said it sort of as a joke, that the question should be, “Is conservatism part of the libertarian movement?” But you could actually make a very good case that it’s the right way to think about it. Classical liberalism predates modern conservatism by a few centuries. And modern American conservatism is nothing else if not an attempt to conserve those institutions of liberty that are embedded in classical liberalism.
This is a point in [F.A.] Hayek’s essay, “Why I Am Not a Conservative.” Lots of people love to quote the headline, but no one likes to quote the article or read the article. In the essay, Hayek is quite clear that he thinks America stands apart from much of the world in that it is one of the few countries in the world, if not the only country in the world, where you can be a conservative and still be a defender of liberty. Because conservatives in the American political tradition are trying to defend and preserve and conserve those institutions of liberty represented by the Founding Fathers and the U.S. Constitution. [Political philosopher] Leo Strauss (I know, really popular among a lot of libertarians) always used to joke about how in America, one of the most conservative organizations was called the Daughters of the American Revolution. Right? In the United States, conservatives are defending a revolution, defending a radical idea.
Philosophically, it’s sort of the same point, right? The classics of the American conservative canon—Locke, Adam Smith, all of these guys—are classics of libertarian thought. You can’t remove the libertarians from conservatives and leave conservatism standing, in the modern American tradition.
Practically, you sort of have the same issue. When you talk about conservative economics, or economic conservatives, you’re talking about libertarians. There really is no distinction between the two. Ask a conservative, “Who are your favorite economists?” and it’s Milton Friedman, Friedrich Hayek, James Buchanan, and on and on and on. Because libertarian economics is conservative economics.
This is the one area where libertarianism is most relevant. I mean, no offense, the drug war is vital and all that kind of stuff. We can have that argument if you like: Legalizing PCP is a vital national emergency! But the relevance of libertarianism is primarily in the economic realm. And in the economic realm—go to any conservative think tank in Washington. They all have libertarians doing their economic work.
This brings us to the political point. There are millions upon millions of libertarians in the conservative movement and the Republican Party. They just don’t call themselves libertarians. There’s a reason why George Nash’s book on the history of the conservative intellectual movement begins with a chapter called, “The Revolt of the Libertarians.” There’s a reason why William F. Buckley called himself a “libertarian journalist.” There’s a reason why the masthead of National Review was festooned with libertarians.
The project of National Review conservatism is fusionism. Fusionism is the essence of mainstream American conservatism. The basic idea that you cannot have a virtuous society if it’s not a free society, because virtue not freely chosen isn’t virtuous. I can hold a gun to your head and tell you to give lots of money to a charity. You get no credit for it because you didn’t choose to do so. And while there are some philosophical and metaphysical problems with fusionism, as a practical organizing principle of modern American conservatism, it’s worked pretty damned well.
The one last point I would make is that one area of disagreement between conservatives and libertarians is on the importance of maintaining a culture of liberty.
Libertarianism is a universal credo, a universal philosophy. It’s global in its perspective and applies to all mankind. But it’s important to remember, and this is a point conservatives and some libertarians make, is that it grew up in a certain place and time for certain reasons. It grew out of Western Europe, it flourished in the United States, and you cannot have freedom unless you have a people that cherishes freedom. And one of the points of conservatism is to keep that in mind and keep the love of liberty alive in the hearts of people, rather than simply say, “whatever floats your boat.” Because the habits of the heart are really one of the things that will sustain a liberty-loving people far more than just libertarian public policies.
Welch: Jonah’s right, in that economists valued by National Review are going to be some of the same people valued by reason. A lot of what we’re talking about here is a difference of tactics. And in this age, the Internet age, in order to promote that culture of liberty, people have learned the technology of independence from political tribes. The only reason we have [Kentucky Republican] Rand Paul in the Senate is because he fought and won against Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). He fought and won against the mainstream of the American conservative movement in the Republican Party. He’s changing that conversation, and that only happened because the Tea Party kept an arm’s length from the Republican Party.
The technology of independence is a hell of a way to promote the culture of liberty and change the Republican Party. And, I hope to God, change the Democratic Party on issues like the drug war, which for me is not an incidental PCP laugh line. We’re still arresting 800,000 people a year for something that should be legal, and we should all feel a sense of shame about that.
Goldberg: Matt has spent a lot of his time in his book and the current issue of reason (which, of course, everyone should subscribe to) talking about this vital role of independents and how the nature of independents is changing American politics. And my problem with this is that it’s a lot of clicking your heels together and wishing it were so. He says we’re seeing people declaring independence from their political tribes. This is a really overhyped argument, by my lights. And it’s something I think libertarians are pinning a lot of false hope on.
Since a book 20 years ago called The Myth of the Independent Voter, it’s been pretty clear in the political science and the social science literature that there really aren’t that many independents out there. That what you have are people who are partisans who don’t like the Republican Party or don’t like the Democratic Party, or think it’s somehow embarrassing to call themselves Republicans or Democrats. Which is one of the reasons why a lot of people call themselves libertarian—it’s just a cooler thing to call yourself. Especially on college campuses, libertarianism is the one philosophy that allows you to be a rebel and also not ruin the party on Saturday night.
But at the end of the day, when you strip away the people who are reliable Democratic voters and reliable Republican voters, there are very few independents left. And these are not particularly impressive people, the ones who are left. These are people who honestly can’t figure out after 18 months of a presidential campaign who they’re going to vote for. These are not steel-trap minds we’re talking about. It would be silly for the libertarians to pin their hopes on these sausage-spined cowards.
American Enterprise Institute Coalitions Director Dan Rothschild, moderator: Why do all libertarians have to be a part of the conservative movement? Shouldn’t the answer to this ques- tion be some libertarians are part of the conservative movement and some aren’t?
Goldberg: Sure. I think that’s perfectly fair. In the 1960s, there were a lot of libertarians who believed in crushing monogamy and all of this kind of stuff and crushing the institution of marriage. And now they’re all cheering when they see two gay guys with wedding rings pushing a baby down Broadway. They think it’s fantastic, it’s a nice turn. And I think that is a nice turn. I think that if you’re going to have a position on homosexuality in life it’s better that they bourgeois-ify and pair up than live in pagan society. I think it’s great.
But what’s interesting is that you have left-libertarians who basically have shut up because they lost that argument, as the conservatizing forces of American life have worked their way, even through the argument about gays. And now you have conservatives sort of not knowing how to respond to the fact that they’ve basically won the argument.
Where libertarianism matters still, and where it’s distinct from what I would call libertinism, it’s still basically on the right. The fundamental point about politics is about what the government should do. What the government should be involved in. And on seven issues out of 10, libertarians are on the right—I mean literally the conservative side—of that argument. They’re for less government, for less government intervention, regulation, and all of the rest. Cultural libertarianism is all very interesting and fine and good, but it seems to me less relevant, and the stuff that most cultural libertarians draw on is not the intellectual canon of libertarianism or conservatism properly either. It’s a cultural pose as much as anything else, I would argue.
Welch: Libertarianism, I would say, has the best magicians out there of any political tendency. Penn Jillette has an idea about politics, answering that question, which I always find good. It goes like this: I’m so libertarian I don’t even want to tell anyone how to vote. I feel super uncomfortable most times being considered part of the libertarian movement. I’m not part of a movement! I’m a special flower, standing in the corner!
The character that Jonah humorously portrayed of these sort of [people] who wake up on Election Day and kind of figure out where they’re at—that’s becoming less true over time. Gallup last year measured 40 percent of Americans who self-identify as independents. I don’t think it’s necessarily because they don’t think it’s cool to join a team; it’s just not who they are. It doesn’t speak the language that people are normally speaking.
Rothschild: What makes a bigger impact: libertarians influencing the GOP from within or via a third party?
Welch: Right now, within. You have to be kind of blind to not notice that there are people who are talking a lot of libertarianism who are competing for mind share in the Republican Party in 2012. Whether that’s going to be true after libertarians don’t vote for Mitt Romney and Barack Obama wins re-election is another story entirely.
Goldberg: Richard Hofstadter, I’m not a huge fan of his, but his description of third parties is basically right: “They’re like bees. They have their impact by stinging and then they die.” And if you had a Libertarian Party form in 2012, it would be—other than Mitt Romney’s personality—the most important guarantee that Barack Obama will win.
But this sort of proves my point, right? You have this libertarian figurehead of [Texas Rep.] Ron Paul attracting people to the Republican Party. A lot of the people, when you actually ask them why they’re voting for Ron Paul, they don’t say they’re voting for Ron Paul because he’s the best libertarian in the race, they say they’re voting for Ron Paul because he’s the best conservative in the race. And the distinctions there at the ground level are very blurred.
There’s no way Ron Paul would be having this success in a Democratic primary. I mean, you can talk in a Republican Primary about getting rid of five Cabinet agencies and cutting a trillion dollars from the government. They start shouting “Nurse! Nurse!” when you say that in a Democratic primary, and they cart you away and they fill you up with Thorazine. And this just sort of proves my point. There are disagreements, but there’s a home for libertarian candidates and libertarian people in the conservative movement, while there simply is not on the Democratic and liberal side of things.
Welch: I don’t care what the pin on your lapel says at this point. I just want to know what are you going to do with Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, and military spending. How are you going to get rid of this $1.4 trillion deficit in a way that makes any kind of sense, on the federal level, local level, and state level? How can you positively articulate freedom, right now, in a way where you’re changing the conversation from “Oh my God! If you cut a federal agency, poor people are going to die in the street!” to “No, actually, in the ’70s, when we were getting rid of departments (under Democratic leadership in many cases), it made people more free and more prosperous.” There hasn’t been this positive discussion of how limiting government actually improves peoples’ lives. Even in libertarian circles, there hasn’t been a focus on this as much as there could have been over the years.
For the people here who are Republicans and think libertarians are blue-faced weirdoes in their mothers’ basements, that’s great. But can you please focus on this, especially if you have any proximity to power? Because it’s really the only issue that matters. Ultimately, we have this huge problem right now and everything else is kind of a sideshow, including, on some level, talk of political coalitions. Let’s talk about that and find a way to get that done, by any means necessary. The rest of the stuff will sort itself out.
Goldberg: Bill Rusher, the longtime publisher of National Review, passed away last year. He used to give young new staffers at National Review one solid piece of advice, and it was this: “Politicians will always disappoint you.” Because they’re politicians. They’re inherently conflicted between their desire to be popular and re-elected and their desire to live up to their ideals and all of the rest. It doesn’t mean that some of them can’t do it; it just means there is that conflict there. And that’s part of the essence of politics, the essence of real life.
I was not on board with a lot of the George Bush agenda. I used to say when Bush was in office he spent money like a pimp with a week to live. And now the guy looks like Calvin Coolidge in comparison [to Obama]. I never liked compassionate conservatism. My last name’s Goldberg; I’m sort of an Old Testament guy. I like my conservatism with more smiting and wrath.
But all of that said, when you listen to Matt talk about how the impending debt apocalypse is the only really important issue that we’re facing right now—with all the usual caveats that are also really important, but this is the one that is barreling toward us at very fast speeds—to me, it’s very similar to the Cold War.
The Cold War was one of the reasons why fusionism worked. You had Friedrich Hayek write The Road to Serfdom, which said that planning leads to tyranny. He was always being a little more literary than literal when he wrote that, but it was a galvanizing idea. While you had some dissenters, some of the Ron Paul type, you basically had this broad consensus regarding communism abroad and a metastasizing welfare state here at home.
One of the reasons why you can count libertarians as part of the conservative movement—maybe they’re complaining about it, maybe they don’t like it, maybe they think they should get better perks or better seats upfront at all the parties or whatever, I don’t know—but the reason why they’re a part of the conservative movement is because on this fundamental issue of opposing ever-increasing growth of government, ever more intrusive government, ever more soft tyrannical government, we’re on the same side.
Drug legalization and getting rid of copyrights and patents and all that kind of stuff, that would be a fun argument to have. But it’s an argument that you can only treat seriously when you deal with this impending crisis. I would say that libertarians are part of the conservative movement, simply because we both recognize the threat the same way.
Gillespie vs. Coulter
Independence Institute President Jon Caldara, moderator: Mr. Gillespie, Denver now has more medical marijuana dispensaries than we have Starbucks.
Nick Gillespie: When can I move here?
Caldara: That’s not a joke. So at this point, should recreational marijuana be legalized and if so, what other drugs?
Gillespie: Well, it is legal here, right? It should be legal. It’s legal under state law. It should be legal under federal law, and real [nonmedical] marijuana should be legal as well. As for other drugs: I’d be happy to see aspirin legalized, particularly at grammar schools.
Ann Coulter: I object to having this discussion at all when we’re facing financial Armageddon. I really think it’s silly to even talk about these things right now, whether it’s gay marriage or contraception or legalizing marijuana.
Gillespie: I’m happy to talk about financial problems because that is front and center. A summer ago Mitch Daniels, the governor of Indiana (who would have made an excellent presidential candidate, I think), wrote an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal saying, “Hey, you know what, all of us who want a limited government that spends less money and is less in people’s faces, we’ve got to figure out what’s important, and it’s the financial problems facing the nation, facing the government at all levels. We’re dead broke and we have to focus on that, and we have to call a truce on social issues.” He got hammered [for it], not by the left and not by libertarians, but by conservative Republicans in places like National Review.
The spending problem is in the form of entitlements for Social Security, Medicare especially, some Medicaid, and I’d call defense spending an entitlement that has to be looked at. And that’s what we need to be focusing on if we want to reduce the amount of government, the amount of borrowing, and hence the amount of future control over our lives via taxes and redistribution.
Caldara: Mr. Gillespie, I saw on the news that it looks like Iran has developed a wonderful missile and is working on their atomic program, so let me ask you: Is Ron Paul’s foreign policy brilliant or crazy?
Gillespie: To reel it back a little bit, think of a foreign policy that was so brilliant in the Middle East that it managed, after a long and bloody and very expensive war, to take out one of the major regional adversaries of Iran. Saddam Hussein is not there anymore, so just from a question of regional stability, our foreign policy in Iraq has done something very bad: It has actually loosened up room for Iran to be starting to play around in a way that they weren’t able to when they were being bordered by Saddam Hussein.
I’m not an isolationist. I do think we need to have a strong, able defense. But we do not have that. We have a military that is much bigger and much less mobile and much less powerful than it would be if it was smaller and actually doing what it needed to do, which is defend American interests and property, not be the world’s policeman.
Coulter: First of all, I totally disagreed with Mitch Daniels’ statement—
Gillespie: Well wait, you were saying that we shouldn’t be talking about [social issues].
Coulter: I was saying we shouldn’t be listening to libertarians talk about gay marriage and pot when we need to be united in defeating Obama. But I will come back to that if you’d like and answer on Iran. I think Iran has gotten stronger since Obama has been president. I mean, I totally agree—I was a [Pat] Buchananite on foreign policy; I don’t think we should be the world’s policeman. But after 9/11, we see that there are problems we need to deal with, and I don’t care if Bush gives it up, if Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld give it up, I am a total supporter of war in Iraq.
I think we needed an Arab Israel over there. We have this monster causing troubles sitting in this crux of oil and terrorism. And they did have beautiful elections there, and you do have something resembling a democracy being created there, which you are not having, by the way, in Libya and Egypt. That has made us less safe. That has caused more problems.
Republicans may disagree about what serves America’s interest, but Republicans argue about how to deploy the military so that it will serve America’s national security interests. Democrats could not care less. What they care about is: How do I fling the military around the world to make it look like I’m tough on foreign policy? Lyndon Johnson did it with Vietnam. He kept telling his advisers, “I have to show them that Democrats can be tough on foreign policy too. Let’s just keep sending more and more troops without any plan to win.” And Obama increasing troops in Afghanistan.
What on earth are we doing in Afghanistan? Iraq has a literate populace. It’s beautiful for democracy—as is Iran, by the way —young, pro-Western. They’re being led by a lunatic. Afghanistan is exactly the reverse. They have an Al Qaeda– friendly population that has about an 11 percent literacy rate, more goats than flush toilets. They don’t care that their life expectancy is 30 years, they just don’t want foreigners on their soil. Our bombs cost more than anything they could possibly hit in Afghanistan. Why are we spending money on that war? And the answer is because it was a talking point for Obama on the campaign trail: Oh, Iraq, that was the bad war. Afghanistan, that was the good war.
What I care about—and what we can disagree about—is: What is in America’s interest? I think Iraq was, and at least the first six months of Afghanistan was in America’s interest. But you see with Obama more clearly than you did with Lyndon Johnson that they do not care about what helps America. It’s just what looks good for the campaign.
Gillespie: We should not be the world’s policeman. Since 2000 defense spending has more than doubled. Do you feel twice as safe? Do you feel twice as secure? Do you feel twice as good about the future? Defense spending is a great place for a true coming-together of conservatives and libertarians to say: Hey, there are certain things government should be doing, and when we agree on that, we should do that, and at the least cost and most effective way possible.
Caldara: So does government have any role in promoting social values or family values?
Gillespie: No, I don’t think so. Because what are they? What are family values? I have two kids, but how many of you here had a child because you were going to get some money back?
Coulter: But that’s not the point.
Gillespie: That is the point.
Coulter: Going back to our Framers, who were smarter than we are, this is the most free society. It does allow the maximum amount of freedom by having so little government at the federal level and allowing people on the local level to make decisions for themselves and so on and so forth. And our Founders did not think you could have a free people under our Constitution without religion, without family, without honesty and integrity. Those are values that are transmitted through the family.
Gillespie: What does that have to do with tax breaks for having kids?
Coulter: I’m not for tax breaks for having kids.
Gillespie: OK. Then we agree.
Coulter: I’m not for tax breaks, for social engineering generally. But we should be promoting families and families staying together. Tax credits I am against because you’re supposed to be taxing people to raise revenue and not to change behavior, and you know who’s going to be using the tax credits: It’ll be for recycling and for using contraceptives and having abortions.
Caldara: Ann, I came across your speech at [the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC)] last year, where you said if we Republicans don’t run [New Jersey Gov.] Chris Christie, Romney will be the nominee and we will lose. And lately, I’ve seen that you have been doing nothing but pimping for Mitt Romney.
Coulter: Romney was always my second choice. In 2008 he was my first choice. Look, every one of these candidates, even Newt Gingrich, whom I think should be deported, is better than John McCain, so why are we complaining about these candidates? And, you know, it gets back to what drives me crazy about libertarians. In every major political fight of my lifetime, we’ve been fighting A, and these—I’m sorry, this is the only word for it—these chickenshits will come up with: Oh no, I want Z. Let’s start talking about Z! No, that’s not the fight we’re having right now.
Right now, everybody’s saying: I hate all the candidates. We should have a brokered convention. Really? What are you going to get at a brokered convention? Nobody even knows what a brokered convention is. Mitch Daniels is as tall as this water bottle. He is not our strongest candidate. And by the way, everybody thought [Texas Gov.] Rick Perry was going to be the dream candidate until we saw him talk. Well, I knew. So drop the brokered convention.
Mitt Romney is a fantastic candidate. He’s kind of a square. He’s kind of a dork. He’s a turnaround guy. That’s what we need in Washington. He’s attractive. There are no scandals. The hardest stuff he drinks is chocolate milk. He speaks beautifully. He’s a fine candidate. It’s not just: Oh, we’re stuck with Mitt Romney. He’s a lot better than George Bush. He can talk.
Gillespie: Mitt Romney is on the record as saying that he would never, and this is a quote, he would never go after Medicare and Social Security. So if you care about fiscal sanity, he’s got to have a different message by the time he actually goes on the attack against Barack Obama.
Barack Obama’s not going to go after Medicare and Social Security except to pump them up on steroids and make them even more fiscally untenable. Social Security and especially Medicare is the heart of our fiscal problem going forward. We’ve got a lot of debt now. We’re going to have even more of it later, so what Mitt Romney has to do, I think, to win over independents as well as a lot of libertarian-leaning Republicans who take seriously the idea that the government should spend what it takes in is come up with a different message. Because not going after Medicare or Social Security, wanting to increase defense spending even more than the 100 percent it’s been increased over the past decade, that ain’t going to wash. And it’s not a libertarian’s fault that they can’t get all warm and gooey about that kind of platform.
Caldara: Ann, last August, you were making some recommendations on how to fix unemployment, and you said, “No more immigration, legal or otherwise, of low-wage workers.”
Caldara: Are you saying no workers, no legal immigration, no worker permit program?
Coulter: I’m saying we repeal the 1965 Kennedy Immigration Act that by its intent wanted to change the demographics of America. I thought America was a fine country. Yes, there were some problems that needed to be fixed, but I don’t think any time in the history of the world has a country changed its ethnic composition overnight like that. It was done by design. It was done to help the Democrats, and it did help the Democrats.
This is not the country that Ronald Reagan got elected in any more, and a lot of that is because of this family migration. Once you have your second cousin from Pakistan, he can bring the whole tribe in, whereas Germans, British, Irish, basically Europeans, most of their ancestors, they came here 100 years ago. They don’t have anybody in the old country anymore, which is why we have now said no European immigrants need apply. I think it has become more and more obvious what we need are high-IQ workers. We need Silicon Valley. We need people inventing the machines that will pick the cabbage, and we need more iPhones. We don’t need more people to sweep floors right now and vote for the Democrats and go on welfare. And I especially think you can’t even talk about, to get back to your first question, legalizing pot or any kind of drugs or open borders—especially for Third World countries where they haven’t invented the wheel yet—as long as we have a welfare state.
We never used to have immigration laws at all. You came and you sank or swam, and I’m for that. I assume the libertarians are for that, but we don’t have that world now. It’s you come, Ann pays. Ann pays your food, Ann pays your medical, Ann pays your schooling, Ann pays for your roads. No, no, no.
This is the biggest problem facing the country because, if we lose on immigration, both legal and illegal, that’s it. That’s lights out for America. No Republican will be elected nationally again. And we may be about at that point right now.
Gillespie: Yeah, it’s interesting that Ronald Reagan is the person who engineered and brokered the largest illegal immigrant amnesty in the late ’80s. I think he was a Republican, but I’m not sure.
Every economist who looks at this—including George Borjas, a Harvard economist who thinks our immigration policy is wrong—has to concede that on balance, illegal immigrants add much more to the economy than they take out. They don’t take welfare. Immigrants, legal or illegal, are not a drain on the economy.
Immigration is not a problem. Immigration is a problem when it stops happening. I live part of my time in southwestern Ohio, the Cincinnati/Dayton area. And it is a dead area. It is so dead that even immigrants won’t be caught there. America has long been a destination point for immigrants, for people who will work hard, and if they don’t have the education and the skills, they make damn sure that their kids do. And when we stop being a magnet for immigrants, that’s when we have become a Third World country.
Caldara: Is the fiscal issue the overriding concern in America, or should it be? And how do we fix it?
Gillespie: Since 1950 government revenues as a percentage of GDP have averaged just below 18 percent of GDP. Spending has averaged around 20 percent of GDP, and that gap has gotten worse over the past couple of years. We’re spending a lot more of GDP, and we’re taking in less. And it wasn’t always the case; through a good chunk of the ’60s, they were roughly in parallel with or equal with each other. We absolutely need politicians [to address this], and it’s not going to be the president.
Here’s one other thing that I’ll say as a libertarian pitch: Don’t fixate so much on the president. Obama is in many ways an empty vessel, and he was a tool who has been used by longstanding and long-serving Democrats in the House and in the Senate. George Bush was not fully the master of government either; he was being used. We need to fill the Senate and the House with people who understand that government which governs least governs best, and we can add to that now that government which spends less spends more wisely. We are screwed right now, and the bad parts haven’t even come in.
All of us need to take stock of the fact that in 1970, 20 percent of federal spending went to old people, transfers to retirees and the elderly. In about 2020, that’s going to be about 50 percent of federal spending. It is insupportable on a basic fiscal but also on a moral level. We are robbing younger people in this country of any possible future because we’re bleeding them dry now before they can even make any money or save any money or build assets that they can retire on. And those politicians who can say something along those lines and do something about it are the ones we should be packing into Congress, and that will change things much more than Romney or Obama or any of the rest of the presidential candidates.
Caldara: Ann Coulter, is it possible to get some agreement here?
Coulter: Not really. I agree with the basic claim, but it’s talking about the symptoms rather than the cause. It’s like going to a doctor. I have a cough. What should I do? Stop coughing. No, we need to get to why is this happening, and the reason it’s happening is the number of moochers off the productive is growing larger and faster than the productive, and as long as that happens, you really are getting to a point when Atlas is going to shrug, which is why I am Miss Pollyanna Pessimistic for the future of my country. And that’s why you have to look at things like illegal immigration, single motherhood, the growth of white trash, the pothead from your medical dispensaries who want to sit home and collect welfare and smoke pot and shoot up.
Caldara: Nick, any last words?
Gillespie: This happens every couple of years: Conservative Republicans realize they don’t have the votes, and they go through the Rolodex and say, “God damn it, I knew some libertarians who would be willing to vote Republican!”
It’s really easy to get libertarians to vote Republican, and Democrats could do it too if they wanted to. All you have to do is say we’re not going to spend more than we take in, we’re not going to try and take in every dollar out of your pocket, and we’re going to leave you alone in the boardroom and the bedroom. And I think most conservative Republicans can go along with that, because if you’re worried about moral issues, it is always better to lead by example rather than through mandate. Sixty percent-plus of Americans say they want a government that does less and spends less. That’s the winning issue, and we need to believe in that program and say it can be done, or else we really need to start checking out the Rosetta Stone [language instruction] CDs in Greek from our local library.
Matt Welch and Nick Gillespie are co-authors of The Declaration of Independents: How Libertarian Politics Can Fix What's Wrong With America (Public Affairs).