Do Libertarians Need to "Stop Being Nuts"?

That's what Eli Lehrer, president of the new "pragmatic, free-market" insurance think tank called R Street, is arguing over at The Huffington Post. Excerpt from his open letter to Libertarians:

[K]ookiness...is a real problem if one wants to build an effective pro-liberty movement. Personally, my own views in favor of economic deregulation, low taxes, school choice, gun rights, and gay marriage are pretty much small-l libertarian. But it's hugely unlikely I'd ever vote for anybody the current Libertarian [P]arty puts forward or, indeed, leave the Republican Party for any reason. From the self-evidently loony birther/truther conspiracy theories that seem to resonate in Libertarian and Republican-libertarian circles to the crazy-but-not-self-evidently-so plans to abolish the Federal Reserve System that have gained some mainstream credibility, libertarianism has gone off the rails in ways that transcend...harmless kookiness [...]. It's simply not a credible governing philosophy in its current form. And this makes the conservative/libertarian "fusionism" that comprises the heart of the conservative movement inherently unstable going forward. [...]

Replacing the Fed with a gold standard would cause an economic contraction big enough to make the recent recession look like a walk in the park. So are increasingly popular-among-libertarians proposals to sharply slash defense spending, cut-to-nothing the trivial amount the country spends on aid to its allies, and adopt an isolationist posture towards the world. And so forth.

The bottom line is simple: Simply wishing that government would vanish is no substitute for figuring out how to run it. When government gets cut, it's best to target first the obvious absurdities -- bailouts for beach-home owners, farm subsidies, and Warren Buffett's Social Security checks (none of which, [it's] true are the causes of current deficits) -- and be much more deliberate about fundamental reforms. Libertarians can offer practical solutions. They don't need to get in bed with the political Left. But, if they want the fusionist alliance to keep going and the political right to remain in power, libertarians are going to have to stop being nuts.

Whole bit here.

I'm probably the wrong target audience (or even target) here, since I've never belonged to a political party (LP or otherwise), have no rooting interest in "fusionism" or "the political right," and do not have any enthusiasm for re-establishing the gold standard. But I take issue with the great unspoken assumption here–that the Republican Party (which Lehrer is "hugely unlikely" to leave, no matter how badly they cock things up) is the default non-kooky and even productive vessel for voters who advocate small-l libertarian goals.

Take the bedrock small-l libertarian goal of restraining government spending, let alone imposing these theoretical "cuts" of which Lehrer speaks. Republican George W. Bush, who enjoyed Republican congressional majorities for most of his tenure in the White House, jacked up federal spending from $2.0 trillion to $3.1 trillion, while not only failing to address the looming entitlement time bomb that is making a slow-motion takeover of all federal expenditures (Social Security and Medicare alone are currently scheduled to account for half of all federal outlays by 2030), but adding to this fiscal recklessness with addition of Medicare Part D. National debt increased from $5.7 trillion to $10.7 trillion. Bush cut no federal program of significance, and added more economically significant regulations than any president since Richard Nixon.

Lehrer cites as one of his bullet-points of kook that people at the recent Libertarian Party convention were selling "barter or trade" copper coins with pot leaves. Kooky! But what's more beyond the pale: selling (or bartering) goofy political knicknacks at a third-party convention, or concluding (as Lehrer did in a 2003 article) that the problem with the Drug War is that it's not being prosecuted with enough conviction in cities like Baltimore? I will take powerless weirdos who try to change unconscionable and ineffective bipartisan policies over presentable former Bill Frist speechwriters who support freedom-killing statism any day of the year.

To invert Lehrer's last paragraph, the bottom line is simple: Simply wishing that government spending (including on the kind of ill-advised military adventures that Lehrer argues all good Burkeans should defend) can continue to grow without consequence as the Baby Boomers retire is no substitute for figuring out how to head off a fiscal calamity that has Republican fingerprints all over it.

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  • R C Dean||

    my own views in favor of economic deregulation, low taxes, school choice, gun rights, and gay marriage

    But it's hugely unlikely I'd ever . . . leave the Republican Party for any reason.

    No comment.

  • juris imprudent||

    I think the proper response is res ipso loquator.

    Maybe he and Weigel can have a circle jerk.

  • The Hammer||

    I posted the same quote, with the ellipses, in the HuffPo comment section.

  • Concerned Citizen||

    He can't imagine a world without a Federal Reserve. US history prior to 1914 must not have happened.

  • sloopyinca||

    Perhaps he sat next to Ezra Klein in history class.

  • Red Rocks Rockin||

    Yeah, that really stood out to me, too, just because his premise is classic question-begging.

    #1, where is his evidence that ending the Federal Reserve and re-instituting the gold standard would result in a massive economic contraction? Furthermore, why exactly would this be a bad thing? In 1952, you could have a baby in a hospital for less than $300, inflation-adjusted. How much are the REAL costs of that procedure today--$10K? $20K? The Fed's inflationary policies have played a key role in this that he doesn't want to acknowledge.

    If he doesn't support a massive centralized government on the premise that the limits of scale hamstring businesses and infantilize communities, then why the hell would he think a massive centralized bank would be any better?

    #2, if it did, well guess what? It means that we've only survived due to a 100-year run of currency devaluation, and that's a game that empires can only play for so long before the printing outstrips the ability of real productive capacity to cover the shortfall. In essence, he's arguing to kick the can down the road a little further in hopes that the system doesn't collapse until he's dead and in the grave.

  • yonemoto||

    ++ on #2

  • yonemoto||

    it is true that libertarians are having a hard time selling this to liberals. Because for some reason libertarians have an allergy to anything environmentalist-ey (even conservationism, which is less radical and even more amenable to a voluntaryist/property rights treatment).

    The Federal Reserve (and policies of 2% inflation) enforces growth on our society. Whether or not the sum total desires of the individual wants it. On a finite planet, perpetual growth is unsustainable.

  • ||

    finite planet

    It's a big planet.

  • Dan Bongard||

    On a finite planet, perpetual growth is unsustainable.

    In the sense that we only have a few billion years left before the sun swells up and engulfs us, sure.

    Aside from that, your claim is unsupportable.

  • R||

    It also assumes we will always be bound to this rock. As technology advances, we will be able to exploit the resources of other planets as well.

  • Randian||

    But, if they want the fusionist alliance to keep going and the political right to remain in power, libertarians are going to have to stop being nuts.

    Alright, don't let the door hit you in the ass on your way out.

    But it's hugely unlikely I'd ever . . . leave the Republican Party for any reason.

    Lehrer is like an abused spouse who runs around trying to get formerly abused spouses to realize how 'great' their life was before they left. Misery loves company, I guess.

  • SugarFree||

    Baby, you know I hit you only because I love you so much.

  • ||

    He's not an abused spouse. He's a fucking dyed in the wool Republican, and his claims of "small-l libertarianism" are a load of shit. No one who actually holds those views could stand the GOP for more than a few seconds.

  • SugarFree||

    I like the abused spouse metaphor, but really... did any of you agree to marry this fuck? It's more like a guy you occasionally see in the same deli. You share a little bit of interest in the same pastrami, and you both really detest the deli across the street. Is that an actual relationship? Is it domestic abuse when you don't want that deli's shitty boiled ham and he screams at you for not stopping to buy some?

    That our concerns overlap at all with either party is incidental. We aren't out of step with them, they are out of step with us.

  • ||

    Why are all your metaphors about food or bodily fluids? Or both? I'm not complaining, just asking.

  • SugarFree||

    Because I'm hungry and I need a wet-nap.

  • ||

    Good answer.

  • ||

    Do wet naps lead to wet dreams? Then back to wet naps...

  • Dan Bongard||

    No one who actually holds those views could stand the GOP for more than a few seconds.

    Your claim doesn't make much sense. Here are the issues he says he is "libertarian" on:

    "economic deregulation, low taxes, school choice, gun rights, and gay marriage"

    The Democratic Party is clearly worse than the Republicans on the first four issues. They are all but indistinguishable from Republicans on the last one.

    So there is plenty of reason to stay with the Republican Party. They are the lesser evil. Joining the Libertarian Party would just be political masturbation.

  • kbolino||

    The Republican Party: Sure, we're headed to the same place as the Democrats, but we'll hold it off for a couple more years.

    The Republican Party: Better than Obama (if only marginally).

    The Republican Party: Where somehow "economic deregulation" means doubling the size of the Federal Register.

    I could go on...

  • Robert||

    No one who actually holds those views could stand the GOP for more than a few seconds.


    Then why are there millions of them? Just look at poll results, and you'll see Republicans on avg. are more libertarian than Americans on avg., and much more libertarian than Democrats on avg. Just a short while ago I saw mention at HyR that Democrats were 4 times as likely as Republicans to favor Bloomberg's drink cup proposal, and half as likely as Republicans to oppose it. Do you think people with these views somehow just coincidentally by some mistake identify with the GOP, and are just instants away from not being able to stand it any more just when the poll is being taken?

    Face it, the Republican Party is as close as the USA comes to a major libertarian political party. I don't know whether it's as close as there can ever be, but the experiment is constantly being rerun and keeps coming up this way in recent times.

  • kbolino||

    Things libertarians can be thankful to Republicans for:

    - The Drug War
    - The ever-increasing Defense Budget
    - The Department of Homeland Security
    - The Office of Faith-Based Initiatives
    - The Transportation Security Administration
    - No Child Left Behind
    - Medicare Part D
    - The Defense of Marriage Act
    - The Digital Millennium Copyright Act

    Republicans: The most libertarian party this side of the Communists!

  • ||

    I bitch on HuffPo comment boards when they have a libertarians-are-all-monacled-bastards articles, but this one was so fucked up in advocating the GOP as the "sane" variant that it wasn't worth the bother. And the LP convention was pretty kooky.

  • sloopyinca||

    Were you there as well?

  • ||

    Let me see if I have the gist of it: If only we weren't so kooky, those nice Republican boys might take us out on a date, buy us a swell dinner, and then fuck us in the ass all night long.

  • Broseph of Invention||

    All that matters is that I have "Kooks" by David Bowie stuck in my head, with the rest of Hunky Dory sure to follow.

  • SugarFree||

    I don't see the problem.

  • Randian||

    Well because now for some reason I have that song "Freak Like Me" stuck in my head. Try getting that one out.

  • Broseph of Invention||

    Only that I'll have to wait half an hour for "Life On Mars" to loop back around.

  • JW||

    What? Is your brain an 8-track?

  • fried wylie||

    You know you want it, bitch. My outfit alone cost more than your entire political party raised in campaign funds this election.

    /nRb

  • Stormy Dragon||

    But, if they want the fusionist alliance to keep going and the political right to remain in power, libertarians are going to have to stop being nuts.

    In other words, Libertarians need to abandon the idea of electing politicians that actually further policies they support and embrace voting for Republicans purely for the sake of having more Republicans in office.

  • JW||

    Sure thing. Because they've done such a fucking awesome job of it this century. National greatness circle jerks, ballooning debt farther than the eye can see and no end in sight, slashing our liberties in the name of security theater, locking up non-violent offenders in record numbers, killing Zod knows how many innocent civilians in wars that should have never been fought, and just increasing the general malaise that much more with their soul-sucking regulations and baling out their well-connected buddies.

    They're motherfucking SUPer-geniuses, they are. Just like their inbred cousins, the Democrats.

  • Robert||

    Has the possibility ever occurred to you that the Republicans go about as far as the electorate will allow gov't to go in the libertarian direction, and that it's not the fault of the Republicans that they can't achieve more libertarian ends? And that politicians that promise to further ends they actually believe in are unelectable because the voters on aggregrate don't want those ends?

  • kbolino||

    Then why should we fucking vote for them?

    Not to mention that a sizable wing of the party (social conservatives) is actively, and often explicitly, opposed to libertarianism.

    So forgive me if I don't buy the "we're just repressed libertarians at heart, honestly!" routine.

  • Nando||

    Ask Libertarians to Stop being nuts? Easier to ask water to stop being wet.

  • SugarFree||

    I do ask libertarians to stop feeding this obvious troll.

  • Almanian...still||

    It's easier to stop trolls being made out of a strangely-greasy-feeling, unnatural rubber material, and having long, long hair of colors not found in nature...

  • ||

    I see you have been hitting the raves lately.

  • Anonymous Coward||

    I enjoyed a 44 oz Polar Pop of Coca-Cola today in honor of you and Commissar Bloomberg.

    It tasted great.

  • Concerned Citizen||

    I, until today, read Peter King's MMQB column on SI.com. He sees no problem at all with Bloomberg's XL soda ban. He's also a fan of Rachel Maddow. Stick to sports, Mr. King.

  • NoVAHockey||

    I thought he wrote exclusively about Favre.

  • fried wylie||

    "Favre wouldn't drink such an unnecessarily large soda."

  • Coeus||

    I thought he wanted a whole liter.

  • The Hammer||

    King's always been an idiot. Most sportswriters are, because the only information they get on anything other than sports comes from MSM colleagues.

  • Brutus||

    I have a Diet Mt. Dew in that same cup every morning for breakfast. I just don't like sugary sodas.

  • Broseph of Invention||

    Of course it's easier to ask water to stop being wet. It's nearly always easier to track down and identify an inanimate object such as a body of water than an animate one, such as a libertarian. That's like saying "It's easier to spot a drop of water than a libertarian." Of course it is. Now GETTING a drop of water to stop being wet is trickier, though not impossible, as it just requires freezing the water into ice. Some would say you no longer have water, but by most accounts water is the element, with "water" as we often refer to it being shorthand for its liquid form at room temperature. Many more people freeze water daily into ice cubes than ask libertarians to stop being nuts.

    What I'm trying to say, Nando, is that, for a tasty Portuguese chicken joint, you're more right than you know.

  • Almanian...still||

    Shorter whatshisdouche: "It's so because I say it's so."

    How refreshing. Fuck you with your own dick, you fucking wannabe-elitist prick.

  • Randian||

    Alt-Text: TULPA SPEAKS

  • sloopyinca||

    [swoons]

  • ||

    Nice.

    ZING

  • ||

    Threadwinner. That was just... brutal.

  • Randian||

    Thanks everyone! This is the best moment of my day right here.

  • sloopyinca||

    Replacing the Fed with a gold standard would cause an economic contraction big enough to make the recent recession look like a walk in the park.

    [citation required]

    So are increasingly popular-among-libertarians proposals to sharply slash defense spending, cut-to-nothing the trivial amount the country spends on aid to its allies, and adopt an isolationist posture towards the world.

    [citation required]

    When government gets cut, it's best to target first the obvious absurdities -- bailouts for beach-home owners, farm subsidies, and Warren Buffett's Social Security checks (none of which, [it's] true are the causes of current deficits) -- and be much more deliberate about fundamental reforms.

    [citation required]

    Team Red oversaw the largest expansion of the federal government at the time under GWB. And the House, under GOP control has overseen an even larger expansion through issuance of Continuing Resolutions because they are more concerned with reelection than fiscal sanity. Sorry, Eli. Your love for Team Red is not based in reality. They deserve to be blown up with their big government brethren in Team Blue.

  • Almanian...still||

    Team Red oversaw the largest expansion of the federal government at the time under GWB.

    And still doin' a heckuva job, Boehner

  • Dan Bongard||

    Team Red oversaw the largest expansion of the federal government at the time under GWB.

    Well, yes. Which caused some libertarians to say "there's no way the Democrats could be worse". It turned out they were wrong about that.

  • Dan Bongard||

    Team Red oversaw the largest expansion of the federal government at the time under GWB.

    Well, yes. Which caused some libertarians to say "there's no way the Democrats could be worse". It turned out they were wrong about that.

  • Virginian||

    Dan, they outdo each other everytime they get the chance.

    Here's the thing Dan....it never gets smaller. The federal government never shrinks. The last time it did was in the 20s. Every year since it has gotten bigger.

    Every fucking year.

    If the Republican Party manages to pass a budget that spends less money, even by one single dollar, then was spent last year, then I will vote for them for the rest of my life.

    Except they can't do it Dan. They can't do it, because they are part of the problem.

  • Dan Bongard||

    That would be a good reply if I had said Republicans shrink the government. All I said is that Democrats were worse.

  • Red Rocks Rockin||

    Team Red oversaw the largest expansion of the federal government at the time under GWB.

    Not to mention massive deficit growth under both him and Reagan. Just because Obama's making a move on the backstretch doesn't mean that these guys weren't way out in front of him to begin with.

    The truth of the matter is that neither of the teams wants to face fiscal reality because getting us back to a place of solvency would require an acknowledgement that the GDP has been propped up by deficit spending for the last 30+ years, and no one wants to deal with the inevitable downturn (which would be short, but VERY sharp) when that spending is removed.

  • rts||

    From the self-evidently loony birther/truther conspiracy theories that seem to resonate in Libertarian and Republican-libertarian circles...

    [citation needed]

  • rts||

    Damn you sloopy!

  • SugarFree||

    Donald Trump, libertarian standard-bearer indeed.

  • T||

    I do like his odd fetish about Asians stealing our money, but aside from that, Trump isn't even a comical buffoon anymore.

  • Stormy Dragon||

    I'm convinced Trump is actually an Obama supporter and is just trying to make Republicans look as ridiculous as possible.

  • juris imprudent||

    Please, never mention Trump, Asians and fetish in the same sentence again.

  • Suki||

    What is loony about Obama being born in the place both he and his wife said he was born before he changed his story to run for president?

  • kbolino||

    Let it die, man. That dog won't hunt.

  • The Immaculate Trouser||

    Lehrer's conclusion is idiotic, but he's right: the image of libertarians as nutcases is a real problem in growing the movement. I don't know how many people I've met who say something to the effect that "I'd be a libertarian, but..." We don't have to disassociate ourselves from our nuttier brethren, but at the very least we could work to put credible spokespeople than the guy who thinks we should stock up on canned goods for the apocalypse. I like Ron Paul, but if he's the best we put forward as a spokesperson? Then we're failing as a movement.

    Tl;dr version: More Milton Friedmans, less Llew Rockwells.

  • Randian||

    Nooope.

    I have been around long enough to know that X in the statement "I'd be a libertarian but X" is almost invariably a Big Government Program that they just oh-so-wish we would "address" (read: compromise our beliefs and believe as they do) and then they PROMISE they'd be libertarian.

    For example: I get "I'd be a libertarian but they don't do anything for me on abortion", from pro-life friends. I point them out to the philosophical reasoning on l4l.org, and then I get more stuttering excuses why THAT doesn't work for them either.

    Ad nauseam.

  • SugarFree||

    Liars assume everyone is a liar as well. 99% of people against abortion have no reasoning on the subject at all, just emotions and religion. Reason will never sway them, because it never figures in at any point. It goes the same with hardline pro-choicers or anti-pornography freaks or the architects of the welfare/warfare state.

    We--for the most part--reach our decisions from starting principles. They have nothing to start from. They are hollow inside, screeching at the vanishing few who are not.

  • ||

    The vanishing few who are not remind them, constantly, that they are. This is another reason they hate those who are not.

  • The Immaculate Trouser||

    For some? Sure.

    For others? They just need a little philosophical shove. No one emerged fully formed as a perfect deontological libertarian, and as with anything in life, people avoid exposure to situations and people that they find uncomfortable. We should work to make our sales pitch and image better, and part of that entails taking back the microphone from Truthers and other sordid elements which have nothing to do with the philosophy.

  • crazyfingers||

    "Tl;dr version: More Milton Friedmans, less Llew Rockwells."

    LOL, yeah Milton Friedman, the establishment's favorite "libertarian". Thanks for the payroll tax douchebag!

  • Randian||

    Up next: How Albert Einstein is to blame for Hiroshima, on the next episode of "crazyfingers"

  • crazyfingers||

    You're right, Friedman is in no way to blame for the most insidious tax ever foisted on the American people. Just like he didn't help prop up a fascist in Argentina.

  • Randian||

    I know. Thank you.

    People are not responsible for how their inventions are used.

    The Pinochet thing has been so thoroughly debunked that it's laughable you brought it up.

  • sloopyinca||

    Say what you want about Pinochet's politics. The man ought to be taken out and shot for Perfect Strangers.

  • hotsy totsy||

    Wasn't Pinochet in Chile? Why yes, yes he was.

  • Killazontherun||

    It is possible to appreciate both Friedman's and Rothbard's insights into economy and political liberty without having to decide one of the two needs to be shot. Get too internecine you become a joke out of The Life of Brian.

  • SAL||

    You mean in Chile? Economic policies were far from laissez-faire during the Argentinean dictatorship. You should study a little bit of South American geography and history before making such a grave accusation.

  • The Immaculate Trouser||

    Right on cue.

  • sloopyinca||

    Banjos and I were at a cocktail party a couple of weeks ago for Doherty's new book. It was almost exclusively libertarians (and Amy Alkon). Anyway, there was this very attractive young lady from the Ron Paul California organization. We started a conversation with a guy and she entered it, and it wasn't 5 minutes before "CHEMTRAILZ!!!", "BILDERBERGS and JOOZ!!!" and "9/11 WAZ AN INSIDE JOB!!!" I fucking cringed. That was the only loony thing I heard out of a group of nearly 75 people.

    But boy, was that chick nuts. I thought people only claimed that kind of crazy shit on the intertubes. It was my first dose in person. Fortunately, Banjos extricated us from the scene before I opened my mouth to respond.

    TL;DR: there aren't that many crazy libertarians out there.

  • MJGreen||

    Ugh, I remember going to DC for that Ron Paul march in summer 2008. First and so far only march I've participated in. Bunch of really nice folks, had a few good conversations, etc. But as we were marching to the Capitol, this one asshole YELLED at tourists that 9/11 was an inside job, they ned to read the *facts*, they're all sheep, blah blah blah. A bunch of us said, "What the fuck are you doing? Who is that helping?" Didn't stop him, of course.

  • The Hammer||

    As usual, the dumb or crazy ones are the loudest ones.

  • The Hammer||

    As usual, the dumb or crazy ones are the loudest ones.

  • The Hammer||

    And the repetitive ones. Dammit.

  • The Immaculate Trouser||

    I agree... but it seems like the ones who exist always manage to be given microphones to represent the rest of us sane folk.

  • fried wylie||

    the guy who thinks we should stock up on canned goods for the apocalypse

    That's not gonna be as funny when it actually happens.

  • Anonymous Coward||

    But it's hugely unlikely I'd ever vote for anybody the current Libertarian [P]arty puts forward or, indeed, leave the Republican Party for any reason.

    Party over policies or principles. That's all I really need to know about this guy.

  • T||

    Yup. He's for all this shit the Republicans have shown repeatedly they won't address, but he won't leave!

    Then shut up and eat your shit sandwich, Lehrer.

  • Whahappan?||

    Uh, Gary Johnson, hello? (@Lehrer)

  • JeremyR||

    His premise has a point, but not how he argued it.

    The biggest stumbling block is foreign policy. Not so much even the basic message, but how libertarians present the message, attacking the military and blaming the US. Republicans (and much of the country in general) is simply not going to go along with that sort of rhetoric.

  • juris imprudent||

    I must've missed the libertarian attack on the military. All I've heard Paul say is that we shouldn't be permanenty deployed in every corner of the globe. Now, I suppose that would mean we wouldn't need as many people in uniform, or every fancy piece of equipment that we currently have. But is that really an "attack"?

    If there really is a bipartisan consensus that we need to kill more dark-skinned people, then maybe we should be the ones to question that.

  • Killazontherun||

    You have almost an infinite number of Republicans being kooky examples to go with there, Matt. For my money, nothing libertarians have done in the last decade could compare to the desire of Republicans to get up into the Schiavo family business. Fucking weirdos.

  • ||

    From the self-evidently loony birther/truther conspiracy theories that seem to resonate in Libertarian and Republican-libertarian circles

    What the FUCK!!!

    This came from the crazy conservatives!!!

    Since when was Palin and Trump libertarians.

  • The Hammer||

    Since Eli Lehrer needed an example of "libertarian" craziness.

  • ||

    while not only failing to address the looming entitlement time bomb

    Bush did address Social Security. Remember the whole retirement savings thing?

    He went on a tour and everything. It was the republican congress critters who refused to act.

    Note: no fan of Bush but I am a fan of accurate recent history.

  • ||

    The floating heads on libertarian graph reason magazine cover is pretty awesome.

    Who is the dude with the hat and side burns?

  • The Hammer||

    You have to subscribe to find out! BTW, Obama has moved somewhat to the right and down since that issue.

  • James Anderson Merritt||

    Apparently, insisting on real liberty is a problem, if one wants to build an effective pro-liberty movement. I guess, if you insist on faux-liberty and get it, then the movement can be described, at least by the Eli Lehrers of the world, as "effective."

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