Libertarianism's Big Tent?


The Observer (UK) has an amusing story about how one of George Bush?s most potent new opponents may well be, ahem, dandy-boy Vanity Fair Editor Graydon Carter, who has apparently been ganging up on poor Dubya in his impossible-to-find letters from the editor, and is finishing up work on a new book entitled What Have We Lost? A Carter quote:

It is different from the other books out there. I am not a liberal ideologue; I am very much a libertarian. I never got invited to the Clinton White House.

Italics mine. Is he confused about what the word means, have libertarian values become more mainstream, or both? Before answering that, consider New York Times Ombudsman Daniel Okrent?s disarmingly open debut column:

By upbringing and habit, I'm a registered Democrat, but notably to the right of my fellow Democrats on Manhattan's Upper West Side. When you turn to the paper's designated opinion pages tomorrow, draw a line from The Times's editorials on the left side to William Safire's column over on the right: you could place me just about at the halfway point. But on some issues I veer from the noncommittal middle. I'm an absolutist on free trade and free speech, and a supporter of gay rights and abortion rights

Okrent?s self-description, for what it?s worth, sounds just about like that of the typical mainstream journalist, at least in my narrow experience.

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  1. I always though of the ACLU as a model for the prototype journalist.

    So, journalists should be advocates for a specific set of rather narrow social goals generally supported by urban elites, rather than investigators and reporters?

  2. This is also another case of “spectrum” versus the “shortest political quiz DIAMOND”.

    It’s hard to know what a libertarian is until the diamond is understood.

  3. R.C.:

    I didn’t communicate that very well. I meant not that journalists should adopt ACLU positions, but that in general I felt that such was the case.


    re: how journalists view trade

    I saw this Bryan Caplan bit linked through Marginal Revolution the other day. It is a somewhat depressing poll on how people view trade and other issues:

    Tyler Cowen notes: “Here are some broader polls on NAFTA and free trade, compiled by AEI (,filter.economic/pub_detail.asp). Even the people who favor free trade, presumably for its benefits to consumers, think it costs us jobs. Given how the public feels, I am always surprised that we have as much free trade as we do.”

  4. God forbid that journalists should adopt ACLU positions! After all, what possible use do they have for the First Amendment?

  5. pepblast,

    I came to the conclusion long ago that affiliations with various ideologies, political parties, etc. are so fluid as to make self-definitions meaningless.

  6. The typical mainstream journalist is an absolutist on free trade? Or just says that he is (still almost as boggling to me)?

  7. Is this the same Dan Okrent who wrote (writes?) for Sports Illustrated, and is a well-known FoBJ (Friend of Bill James)?

  8. “The typical mainstream journalist is an absolutist on free trade?”

    This one has me scratching my head as well. I always though of the ACLU as a model for the prototype journalist.

  9. The typical mainstream journalist doesn’t know enough about trade to consider himself an absolutist on the matter one way or the other. The typical mainstream business writer isn’t much better. This is because they all go to journalism school and sleep through their one remedial econ course.

  10. I suppose if Bill Maher can call himself a libertarian, anyone can. The position seems to be understood in many circles as (ACLU + Drugs) X Redistributed Goodies.

    Maybe raise that whole term to the John Galbraith power if you are economically ‘sophisticated’.

  11. Newsroom hacks and even lefty journalists, in my experience, believe much much more in the virtues of free trade than, say, backers of Richard Gephardt. When the Progressive Left complains about *right*-wing media bias in what the right sees as the Liberal Media, support for stuff like NAFTA and WTO tariff-slashing is one of the central pillars to the argument.

  12. Dave — Yes. Which is, obviously, one reason I have some hope for the guy….

  13. I always though of the ACLU as a model for the prototype journalist.

    I have worked in a number of newsrooms, and each one contained a mixture of conservatives, liberals, even a few libertarians, from all areas of the spectrum. In other words, not so different from any other workplace in America.

    As a nation, I think we’re too quick to use the word “journalist” when we actually mean “overpaid TV personality who reads things in front of a camera” or “guy who goes on talk shows and has opinions” or “resident of New York City who writes about whims of elite New Yorkers for magazines read by other elite New Yorkers, or people who think they’re elite New Yorkers.”

  14. “free speech, and a supporter of gay rights and abortion rights”

    Ah, typical left-wing journalist!!

    “absolutist on free trade”

    Ah, typical puppet of corporate interests!!


  15. Libertarianism don’t need no steenking big tent. This is just a bunch of philosophical seekers of truth, justice and the American way, no?

  16. Most mainstream journalists do not question capitalism or free trade in general; they tend to quibble about specifics. I think that is essentially the modern liberal attitude. BTW, this conservative rant that journalists as a rule are Marxist ideologues sounds empty after a while.

  17. The fact that he’s such an enthusiastic supporter of a presidential run by Hillary Clinton killed it for me.

  18. The Bill Maher comment was right on… faux libertarians are everywhere.

  19. EMAIL:
    DATE: 02/28/2004 11:05:54
    One must be poor to know the luxury of giving.

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