A Libertarian "Jeffersonian Liberal" Democrat Manifesto

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Over at his personal blog, subtitled "Thoughts from a libertarian Democract," the head of the Washington Center for Politics & Journalism, Terry Michael, lays out a manifesto for Dems who are tired of me-too politics and getting their asses kicked in presidential races. Michael, the former press secretary for Democratic National Committee, says the donkey party would be smart to reclaim a Jeffersonian appreciation of decentralization and embrace libertarianism as the glue to hold its various interest groups together.

The whole thing is well worth reading, but here's some snippets:

What's the story behind today's Democrat brand? I continue to be a partisan Democrat, but I'm not sure. I believe it's something like: "Government isn't all that bad; look at Social Security and Head Start. America isn't always that good; we try to impose our will on a multi-cultural world. The marketplace is full of bad guys who need to be restrained, including their greed-driven political speech. Hey, we're religious, too. And, not just equal opportunity for all, but re-distributive social justice entitlements for special "minority" victims, because, except for me and my friends, racism endures."…

We need a new story. Here's a rough cut, a little more than can fit on a bumper sticker, assembled around the three fundamental issue frames of politics–economic, social, and foreign policy:

"Government: assure liberty by staying as far away as possible from our bank accounts, our bedrooms, and our bodies. Spread pluralistic democracy and free markets by example, understanding that neither can be planted by force on political real estate lacking indigenous cultivators for their growth. Restore the moral authority of mid-20th century "civil rights," fashioning public policy around individuals, not tribal identity groups."

The good news for Democrats is that the conservative era in American politics is coming to an end. In power for a decade, congressional Republicans, now joined at the hip with a two-term failed Republican president, have engaged in corrupt big government spending seriously undercutting the economic conservatism that has bound the party together. And the heavy internal party influence of social-cultural neanderthals is turning off the political center. Republicans have run the usual cycle of American politics: election, hubris, over-reach….

It won't be easy for many Democrats to update our brand by embracing a 21st Century libertarian label (many Episcopalians won't laser-off their old blue-blood tattoos, even after they've become egalitarian Unitarians.) So, "Jeffersonian liberal" might be a useful way-station for some. But, whatever you call it, Democrats need a new story, a shared, energizing, informing ideology.

I believe "libertarian" can inspire a 21st Century base and attract many voters who have come to believe both parties may be obsolete, and are seeking an alternative. We are going to get a new party in America, but not by addition. It will be in a way Shirley McClain might appreciate–through reincarnation.

My party, in an ideological desert for decades, is eager to find a well from which we all can drink. We're at a tipping point, and ready, I believe, to adopt a new "L" word.

Whole thing here. I don't think there's any question that Michael is right that the Dems need a new storyline. And certainly they couldn't go wrong by picking up ideas from the libertarian world (really, can 50,000 Reason subscribers be wrong?). Whether the Dems are smart enough–and/or desperate enough–to filch ideas from libertarians is, of course, a whole other question. As a matter of fact, it remains a question whether the GOP will ever return to libertarian-inflected rhetoric (at least). So many questions, and so soon after the 4th of July.

Reason's Dave Weigel went a-searching for libertarian Democrats and found no Kos for celebration here.

Former Reasoner Matt Welch shone a light on what he called "Deadwood Democrats" here.

Check out the Freedom Democrats here.

And for god's sake, subscribe to the print edition of Reason already. It's less than $20 for a year's worth of action-packed action.

NEXT: The Devil's in the Details

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  1. Yes, subscribe now!

    I enjoyed reading the latest issue over the weekend. Between Tim’s essay on Star Trek and the contributions on immigration, I have to say it was one of the best issues in a long time.

  2. I don’t consider myself a card-carrying member of any party. In my experience Republicans tend to be cynical and selfish, and Democrats overly idealistic and rather naive.

    But just reading through his article provides a good reason why the Democrats are failing, and are unlikely to recover anytime soon. The program he lists as big successes, Social Security, Head Start and Affirmative Action, are programs that in my mind are fundamentally flawed. Whose flaws liberals tend to overlook/gloss over.

    The fact that Social Security is technically bankrupt has been apparent for a long time. Head start provides some small boost in educational attainment for a few years, and the affect wears off rapidly after that. And affirmative action, I can see the reasoning behind the program but cannot stand for a program that by definition discrimminates against racial groups. Even if it is to redress prior injustices.

    As long as these policies represent the core of modern “Democratic” thinking the party will be in trouble. Regardless of how corrupt or incompetent their opponents become.

  3. That’s a great concept; run down and ask the folks at AFSCME and the NEA what they think of it.

  4. “Dems who are tired of…getting their asses kicked in presidential races”

    Democrats outpolled Republicans in three of the last four presidential races, failing only to defeat an incumbent president during wartime (a feat that has never been achieved in American history). If demographic groups continue the voting patterns of the 2004 elections, Texas will become a blue state by 2010 or 2012. Republicans’ grip on Congress is analogous to that of the Democrats around 1990, dependent on incumbents in districts that lean towards the Democrats. To the extent that the party retools its message, it can do so from a position of strength, not desperation.

    Also, nobody in their right mind is going to adopt the label “libertarian,” because it is linked in the public mind with radical loonies.

    Some of the policy recommendations, such as standing up against the Imperial Presidency and working around the interest groups, are right on the money, though the connection to the libertarianism will have to be downplayed, not advertised.

  5. sez Milton Friedman:

    We mislead ourselves if we think we are going to correct the situation by electing the right people to government.

    If the Democrats abandon the word liberal and ruin libertarian, will their foul stench ever come off the former? I’d like to be able to call myself liberal without a long explanation about what the word really means.

  6. lannychiu,

    Where does he mention Affirmative Action? Restore the moral authority of mid-20th century “civil rights,” fashioning public policy around individuals, not tribal identity groups.”
    sounds like he’s against affirmative action, not for it.

  7. The progressives (i.e. regressives) in the Democratic Party are unlikely to ditch many, or even any, of their cherished positions and rhetoric: class warfare-income gap crisis – ‘solved’ through massive redistribution schemes, no choices in education, ban all guns and criminal attacks will magically disappear, decide where people can live through ‘anti-sprawl’ schemes, push for national health care, and other top down one-size fits all approaches to social problems. I also think that economics needs to be taught in the schools. If there are going to be required courses, economics should be one of those courses. Little progress will come in the ranks without better education in economics.

  8. Joe,

    The Dems had their most popular President in 40 years and still couldn’t win a majority and had to have a strong third party candidate to win. Moreover, even when the Dems did have the Presidency, that Presidency’s three major accomplishments were welfare reform, cutting the capital gains tax and NAFTA. Damn, a Democratic presidency sure brought back the good old days didn’t it? Even in an era of peace and prosperity, they still couldn’t win with a sitting VP running in 2000. Further, the Dems lost their 50 year grip on the Congress in 1994 and sans a two year period where they were able to get Jim Jeffords to turn traitor on the Republicans, have shown little ability to win it back. Further, the Democrats have lost control of state houses allowing the Republicans to take over the gerrymanders.

    I am glad there are people out there like you though. You can’t solve a problem until you realize you have one. As long as the Dems keep convincing themselves that they really are the majority party despite the election results, they will never get back into power for anything more than the occasional blip.

  9. brian24,

    I inferred his support of Affirmative Action from the statement;

    “And, not just equal opportunity for all, but re-distributive social justice entitlements for special “minority” victims, because, except for me and my friends, racism endures.”… ”

    I can’t see what this would mean other than Affirmative Action.

  10. “Government: assure liberty by staying as far away as possible from our bank accounts, our bedrooms, and our bodies”

    Unless of course you are in your bedroom eating a cheeseburger, smoking a ciggerette, or planning some kind of unapproved political speach covered by the campaign finance laws.

    These are all great ideas that would make the Democratic party more popular with everyone but the people who today call themselves Democrats.

  11. “Government: assure liberty by staying as far away as possible from our bank accounts, our bedrooms, and our bodies”

    Unless of course you are in your bedroom eating a cheeseburger, smoking a ciggerette, or planning some kind of unapproved political speach covered by the campaign finance laws.

    These are all great ideas that would make the Democratic party more popular with everyone but the people who today call themselves Democrats.

  12. “And, not just equal opportunity for all, but re-distributive social justice entitlements for special “minority” victims, because, except for me and my friends, racism endures.”… “

    I believe that represents the current orthodoxy, which Michael wants to move away from…

    In The Open Society and Its Enemies, Popper identified the same fallacy as Friedman – the idea that everything will be OK if we can only figure out how to put the right people in power. Instead, he suggests building the system so that it can survive office being held by anyone… The whole book (well, two books, actually) is highly recommended – Popper simply takes apart Plato, Hegel and Marx, the holy trinity of statist thinking.

  13. Chiu,
    I think you read through his mission statement too quickly. The first paragraph is put in quotes to stand for what he thinks *has been* the Democratic mindset. He makes it clear that this is not what he’s about or what the new Democrats should be about in the leadoff to the second paragraph when he states: “We need a new story.”
    Good luck to him. I have my doubts as to how many Democrats will actually come around to such a new vision,new for them, as so many seem stuck on half-baked notions of government and romantic attachments to technocracy.

  14. peachy,

    I believe you are correct, although from his additional statment I have no idea what his ideas would mean in practice or even in theory.

    It is somewhat reminiscient of John Kerry’s 3-page qualifier in support of Free Trade. Something with lots of catchphrases which did not imply any particular policy or even baseline theory.

  15. Isn’t it silly for any advocate of liberty/freedom to accept government no matter how minimal the government?
    The definition of government is “a lid on freedom.” Duh.

    It’s like saying “a little bit pregnant.”

  16. Uh-huh: I believe it?s something like: ?Government isn?t all that bad; look at Social Security and Head Start. America isn?t always that good; we try to impose our will on a multi-cultural world. The marketplace is full of bad guys who need to be restrained, including their greed-driven political speech. Hey, we?re religious, too. And, not just equal opportunity for all, but re-distributive social justice entitlements for special ?minority? victims, because, except for me and my friends, racism endures.?

    As has been noted, the benefits of Head Start all but disappear after a few years, and anyone who thinks Social Security isn’t in serious fianancial difficulty, i.e., that it was implemented intelligently to be self-sustaining, is crazy.

    And few libertarians buy into notions of “social justice,” a concept that Hayek, for good reason, found wholly pernicious. “Society” is an abstraction that acts neither justly nor unjustly; individuals act –justly or unjustly, and in all other ways.

    Further, the founders would have had fits at the idea of criminalizing ANY political speech, notwithstanding that it is characterized as “greed-driven.” Political speech was the primary genre they sought to protect.

    That all said, and while I am very, very skeptical of recent Democrtatic overtures to libertarians/libertarianism, I still want them to take the House and/or Senate. Not because they are libertarians, but because they are not Bush/Frist, populist, big govt, dangerous Republicans. Let’s get some of that faction-driven checks and balances goin’ on, and maybe a dish of gridlock to boot.

  17. John’s funny.

    “The Dems had their most popular President in 40 years and still couldn’t win a majority and had to have a strong third party candidate to win.” The Democrats didn’t even win a majority in 92 or 96! AND there was a strong third party challenge! Yup, you really got me there. :-)))

    “Moreover, even when the Dems did have the Presidency, that Presidency’s three major accomplishments were welfare reform, cutting the capital gains tax and NAFTA. Damn, a Democratic presidency sure brought back the good old days didn’t it?” Please try not to wander off into irrelevancies, ok?

    “Even in an era of peace and prosperity, they still couldn’t win with a sitting VP running in 2000.” Al Gore’s margin of victory was larger than the voting age population of several states. A smarter version of you would make a point about regional appeal and the electoral college, not hang himself with a counterfactual statement about Gore’s success among the population as a whole.

    “Further, the Dems lost their 50 year grip on the Congress in 1994” Yes, the Democrats were in a much worse position back when I was an undergrad.

    “…and sans a two year period where they were able to get Jim Jeffords to turn traitor on the Republicans, have shown little ability to win it back.” Actually, they picked up seats in 96, 98, and 2000.

    “Further, the Democrats have lost control of state houses allowing the Republicans to take over the gerrymanders.” That’s funny, I thought we were talking about the public’s perception of the Democrats. Now why would you feel it necessary to point out the prodedural tricks the GOP has to use to defend its majority?

  18. My point, Mona and others, is that, if we were all anarchists, we wouldn’t be playing their game. We’d take our ball and go home.

  19. Mona,

    Did you know that the rate of economic growth necessary to maintain Social Security in perpetuity is lower – repeat, lower – than the average annual growth rate from 1865 to the present?

    Or that the ratio of workers to retirees fell from the mid-teens in 1960 to a little above three today, and the “Social Security Surplus” remained intact?

    Or that the projected decrease in the worker:retiree ratio over the next few decades is less than 0.5?

    Or that only the most conservative estimate put out the Social Security Trustees shows any deficit at all, while the medium estimate shows not deficit?

    Or that the SSA’s conservative estimate has never, not once, proven to be more accurate their medium estimate?

    Or that productivity increases over the next few decades are projected to be even larger than they have been over the last few?

    All of these data and more can be yours, if you step into the wonderful world of facts.

  20. Joe, let me guess

    You don’t see anything wrong with robbing Peter to pay Paul? Because that’s what Social Security does.

  21. It’s super keen of us to sit here and blame the Democrats for running losers in the prez campaigns. The fact is, WE are the ones who elected the biggest ball of jackass this country has known in the oval office. We are the ones responsible. Oh, you say that you voted for the right candidate? What did you do to get other people to vote for the right candidate? With your conservative credibility, did you defend Bush as the least damaging choice, or did you say Iraq was a stupid, terrible mistake? Sure, we can blame Democrats, especially those “reporting for duty.” But I’m pretty sure everybody John Kerry and Al Gore know voted for them. I can’t say the same about myself. In fact, I know people who still defend Bush and say Iraq is the greatest test of freedom this world has known. Regardless of fault, it’s OUR problem.

  22. Daniel,
    There are only two sure things in life: Death, and robbing Peter to pay Paul.

  23. As someone pointed out, the problem with reforming the Democratic party is that just about any such reforms will drive out those who, aside from losing elections, think the only problem with the party now is that it isn’t leftist enough.

    Interestingly — well, I’m interested though I doubt many of you will be — this dilemma is playing itself out in the politics of the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion at the moment. The current Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, is generally considered a “progressive,” but he now finds himself between the “rock” of homophobic African clergy and the “hard place” of culturally condescending (if not, in fact, racist) American homosexual activists.

    The point (and yes I do have one) here is that identity politics plays a much larger role in Democratic and liberal policy than in what still barely passes for the broader coalition of social and economic conservatives. It took the likes of Bush and the drunken sailor spending habits of the current Republican Congress to destroy that coalition. But just about any change to the spoils system of left-liberalism can suffice to wreck havoc in the Democratic party base.

  24. What is this new fascination with:

    A) Acting like Democrats are remotely libertarian and;

    B) Acting like the path to electoral success runs through adopting libertarian doctrines?

    Two less plausible concepts I can’t imagine. I get that Dems need a compelling message, but if there is anything we locally should be aware of, it is that libertarianism isn’t a compelling message to most people.

    The way of the Dems to win is to figure out what set of policy buttons to push that will motivate people to vote for Donkey Flavor.

    Two words: Free Drugs. If you own AARP, you own the election.

  25. We can now await joe’s defense of Head Start.

    Actually, not to quibble with Mona (let alone St. Hayek!), I have no problem with the notion of social justice insofar as it demands of me, personally, to use my own resources wisely and to help those who need help as I deem appropriate. Of course, that isn’t the notion usually intended. On the contrary, it usually involves, as others have said, taking from Peter to help Paul. Robin Hood was much more beloved than the Sheriff of Nottingham, but they were both thieves.

  26. This guy’s brilliant observation is that if the two parties exchange political platforms that this will also change the political outcomes?

    Um, no kidding.

  27. Social Security Surplus…yes, all those government bonds that the government has promised to pay back. I think I’ll go write myself a check for a hojillion dollars that’s dated for 10 years from now, then base my spending on actually having a hojillion dollars. Totally sound plan, really great. I’ll a a hojillionaire.

  28. Social Security Surplus…yes, all those government bonds that the government has promised to pay back. I think I’ll go write myself a check for a hojillion dollars that’s dated for 10 years from now, then base my spending on actually having a hojillion dollars. Totally sound plan, really great. I’ll be a hojillionaire.

  29. Mr. Ridgely dares to quibble with not just me, but also with (genuflecting) St. Hayek of Chicago:

    I have no problem with the notion of social justice insofar as it demands of me, personally, to use my own resources wisely and to help those who need help as I deem appropriate.

    My good sir, whatever works of corporal mercy your faith calls upon you to make, are your business, and I have little doubt that your efforts are commendable. But I would deny that they have anything to do with the nebulous concept of “social justice.”

  30. Virtually any economic forecast past a few years is really just a guess, and anyone who tells you different is lying or has willfully deceived themselves.

    That said, I don’t know if social security will be viable when I retire, whether productivity will grow fast enough to fill potential shortfalls, or people will start having babies again.

    What I do strongly object to is the government forcing me to save for my retirement by paying into a ponzi scheme. There are simple investment options (bonds, TIPS, index funds) available to citizens which , if saving is started young, will likely lead to a very comfortable retirement. You don’t need to be Warren Buffett, you just need to put aside a reasonable portion of your income each month into a simple strategy.

    Instead the government forces me to put money into a program that doesn’t actually invest in growing firms, relies on the goodwill of future generations and regardless offers me a very poor return on my money.

    I think it was a bad idea from conception, and my view of it’s future viability doesn’t change that.

  31. But I would deny that they have anything to do with the nebulous concept of “social justice.”

    Personally, I’ve always defined the nebulous concept of “Social Justice” as “A Meddling Liberal Getting Slugged In the Teeth”.

  32. Mr. Ridgely points out: the problem with reforming the Democratic party is that just about any such reforms will drive out those who, aside from losing elections, think the only problem with the party now is that it isn’t leftist enough.

    and Jason Logon inquires: What is this new fascination with:
    A) Acting like Democrats are remotely libertarian and;
    B) Acting like the path to electoral success runs through adopting libertarian doctrines?

    At some point — hopefully in the near future — I will have much more to say about all of this. For now, I simply affirm that Ridgely is correct, and yet, those potential voters who (whether they so self-identify or not) constitute “libertarians” run at 15-20% — some savvy Dems are aware that this libertarian cohort is increasingly dissatisfied with the populist GOP.

    Some of us will never vote for either of the two parties (e.g., Ruthless); others will, and of those who have or will, allegiance to the GOP is bent to the point of breaking. Dems, or a signifcant few of them anyway, would like to snag some of the libertarians who choose between the two major parties, and it seems a wooing campaign is afoot; but implementing that campaign without alienating their left-wing base is a project worthy of David Copperfield (the magician, not the Dickensian character).

    It should be fun to watch, and watch I shall, with running annotations.

  33. “Government: assure liberty by staying as far away as possible from our bank accounts, our bedrooms, and our bodies. Spread pluralistic democracy and free markets by example, understanding that neither can be planted by force on political real estate lacking indigenous cultivators for their growth. Restore the moral authority of mid-20th century “civil rights,” fashioning public policy around individuals, not tribal identity groups.”

    Sounds like a party I could work with. I don’t see one out there that could adopt those premises, though, aside from the LP goons.

  34. “For now, I simply affirm that Ridgely is correct, and yet, those potential voters who (whether they so self-identify or not) constitute “libertarians” run at 15-20% — some savvy Dems are aware that this libertarian cohort is increasingly dissatisfied with the populist GOP.”

    This is way off the mark. There is nothing like 15-20% of people who will be motivated to vote by libertarian principles. Some may be motivated by guns, others by tax cuts, but it is a fallacy to deduce that these people want anything other than their pet policy. The number of voting people who are holistically libertarians is much closer to 1% than 15%.

  35. “I also think that economics needs to be taught in the schools. If there are going to be required courses, economics should be one of those courses. Little progress will come in the ranks without better education in economics.”

    And logic. Definitely logic.

  36. Jason-

    How are you so certain that people are motivated by pet issues rather than a general world view? That is, could it be that people look at the total package and decide whether it generally fits with their notion of what they want?

    Mind you, I’m not denying the unpopularity of our particular world view, I’m just wondering whether it’s really all about pet issues.

  37. Daniel, lannychiu,

    It is refreshing to see you go directly to the ideological, values-based argument that is actually behind the effort to demolish Social Security. The bogus, oh-so-easily-refuted fiscal argument made by Mona is such an exercise in avoidance. To answer your question Daniel, no, I don’t see anything wrong with using public funding to create retirement security. In this case, the “problem” is even less real, because Peter will get his when he reaches retirement age.

  38. JOe,

    For once I agree with you about something. SS is not going to bankrupt the government as long as the ecomony and productvity keeps growing. You can get by with few workers to retirees if those workers are increasingly productive, which is a reasonable assumption given the past. I have never been that paniced about SS, medicare and medicaide on the other hand is a different story.

  39. There are a couple of different points being conflated in this debate, I think. DA Ridgely talks about an effort to reduce the role of “identity politics” interest groups as being unacceptable to the Democrats’ “left-liberal” wing.

    But the most visible proponent of this idea is…Markos from the Daily Kos, who currently has out a successful book out titled “Storming the Gates,” which recommends, among other things, a reduction in the influence of indentity-based, self-interested interest groups. In reality, many of the most powerful interest groups (the unions, the Civil Rights groups, NARAL) come under fire for tactics which elevate their pet issues above the pursuit of liberalism.

  40. Mr. Ligon:

    One might be slightly off but could never be “way off the mark” by affirming “that Ridgely is correct.” I know, I know, that isn’t what you were disagreeing with, but to paraphrase the redoubtable Ron Bailey from many years ago (who recently, and without attribution, did the same to me): I hold no wrong opinions. If I did, I would change them.

    I suppose there is a sense in which everyone’s policies and issues are their “pets,” excepting perhaps such crass opportunists as, say, Bill Clinton. I doubt, in any case, that anywhere close to a majority of the population gives a rodent’s hindquarters about whether their views are consistant or even facially justifiable on any but emotive grounds. Sad but, I think, true, and equally true of the left, right and middle.

  41. JOhn, 😉

    Thanks, and back atcha:

    Medicare’s finances are indeed a mess. I couldn’t really say one way or the other about Medicaid.

  42. Jason Ligon writes: The number of voting people who are holistically libertarians is much closer to 1% than 15%.

    Well, I suppose it is a semantical argument, as to what constitutes a “holistic libertarian.” In any event, the support for my 15-20% stat is at home, and I, alas, am not.

  43. Actually, both joe and carrick mistake one sort of libertarian justification as being the only sort.

    Generally, there are only two sorts of justifications for normative positions: consequentialist or utilitarian, on the one hand, and deontological or Kantian, on the other. Now, I happen to think that both sort generally lead to libertarian conclusions more often than not, but as the kids say, your mileage may vary.

    So, taking Social Security as our topic for the day (and noticing still no defense of Head Start forthcoming from joe), the notion that something is, by some measure, affordable is largely irrelevant. The question still occurs whether it is an efficient method of achieving its intended goals. If not, and if there are viable alternatives, then it is at least to that extent wasteful. I suppose decrying waste is in some sense ideological, but the point remains that one can attack in support of libertarian alternatives the status quo without ever reaching the question whether it is ethical to force someone to contribute to something he would otherwise not contribute toward.

    By the same token, even assuming Social Security were both affordable and as efficient as possible, it is also a perfectly respectable and libertarian position to argue that it would still be wrong to force Peter to pay for Paul, whether or not Patrick was going to end up paying for Peter later. One might argue that position both on grounds that coercing Peter is wrong regardless of the good accomplished and that denying Paul his independence is wrong even if Paul suffers from that freedom.

    It is simply wrong as an empirical matter to assert that attacks on Social Security (let alone libertarian positions in general) are “really” and invariably all about what joe accusingly calls “ideology.”

  44. thoreau:

    It is a consequence of the political environment in which we live. Ideology can’t possibly be a motivator for a majority of people who vote because, if that were the case, all of the ideologies of voting americans could be somehow distilled into exactly two consistent positions – one for each party. The most compelling argument in favor of the issue voter is the shape of the government we have. Ideological voters would elect ideological candidates. Pork would be less popular than consistency. It would be bizarro world.

    No, I think that thing that motivates people to pull the lever is something specific. Guys who lost their jobs either want new jobs or more welfare payments. Old people want free healthcare. Religious people want to see vindication of their beliefs in public spaces. Feminists want access to abortions. Gun nuts want guns.

    There ARE ideological liberals, conservatives, and libertarians, but there aren’t very many. Play the hypotheticals game with me. What happens to the left coalition if you had a candidate who gave them everything they ever wanted in terms of redistribution, economic justice, big teacher salaries, and every civil liberty EXCEPT he would work to outlaw abortion?

    My argument is that there is a hierarchy of issues for most voting people, and the party that owns those issues with the best chance for advancing them gets those votes.

  45. Oh yeah? Watch this, I bet I can get 90% of people to agree with this statement:

    “People should be able to do pretty much what they want without harming someone else”

    …Sounds libertarian right? Then I ask “Well what about drug use?” Then they answer “well, of course we can’t let people do DRUGS, they MIGHT harm someone else while they’re high as a kite!” Another popular equivocation is (the so-called agreer to the statement says: ) “By harm, I mean no ECONOMIC ‘harm’ as well”. Argh. And then there’s really no difference. My point, I think Ligon is right, people get hung-up on their pet issues.

    So, Mona, you’re going to have to cough up something really persuading before I buy the line that 1 out of 5 people generally agree with me…”public” smoking bans, gay marriage bans and the drug war seem to fly in the face of that malarkey.

  46. I don’t know very much about Head Start.

    What I do know something about at this point is libertarian ideology, and I don’t need to have the basics expained anymore, fellas. Hell, I know enough to point out the difference between carrick’s war of one vs. all (“the personal responsbility for individuals to take care of themselves”), and D.A.’s oh-so-efficient private sector social-support vaporware that he suggests we step off the cliff for.

  47. Hell, I know enough to point out the difference between carrick’s war of one vs. all (“the personal responsbility for individuals to take care of themselves”)

    I have zero problems with groups of like minded individuals banding together to promote a common good (one for all and all for one — I actually like that stuff) so long as it’s voluntary. I could easily live with SSA if there was a reasonable means for individuals to opt out and go their own way.

    I do, however, have big problems with state mandated programs that allow some individuals to shirk their responsibilities to take care of themselves and others while forcing more responsible individuals to pay for it under the threat of legal sanctions for refusing to participate.

  48. BTW payments to keep the proles from revolting have been a traditioinal feature of governments for a very long time.

    This fact does not enter in to lib calculations of their ideal world.

  49. Unless you have your head up your ass, the Democrats are clearly the better option than the Democrats for a Libertarian. That’s an objective fact. You’re never going to get social security or medicare or medicaid reform under a GOP President because people (not totally unjustifiedly) will never trust a GOP President to be enacting these plans for any reason than helping his rich buddies. There’s a reason we got smaller government, NAFTA, and welfare reform with a Democratic president, and that is, they are to be more trusted to be undergoing such programs with the benefit of the entire populace. If you want more economic liberalization, your ONLY option is to support a centrist Democrat (Mark Warner for example).

    Also, the Democrats don’t have a wacko religious element. Sure they have their version of people who want to tell you what to do with smoking bans (which Republicans are usually just as guilty of nowadays) and gun control, but at least they don’t believe that their doing God’s work, which is much more dangerous.

    And I’d rather rob Peter to pay Paul than rob Peter to kill Ahmed.

  50. I meant the Democrats are clearly better than Republicans for a Libertarian.

    I also echo M. Simon’s sentiment

  51. What happens to the left coalition if you had a candidate who gave them everything they ever wanted in terms of redistribution, economic justice, big teacher salaries, and every civil liberty EXCEPT he would work to outlaw abortion?

    I think the left coalition would freak out. Not all of them consider abortion their #1 thing, but many of them still have an opinion on it, and they figure that they can get better. Why settle for one piece of cake if there are other people in your party who will give you two pieces of cake?

    Now, there are pro-life Democrats. Those pro-life Democrats tend to come from more conservative areas, and the rest of the coalition accepts that as a trade-off for electability. They’ll settle for one piece of cake instead of zero, but if they can get two pieces of cake then they’ll insist on both pieces.

    Still, I see your point. Different people do have different priorities. The question is whether this makes them isomorphic to openly single-issue voters. I would observe a few things:

    1) There’s a big difference between loyalty to a candidate and loyalty to a party. People bolt from candidates for all sorts of reasons. Indeed, disputes within the tribe can be even nastier than disputes between tribes.

    2) You frequently describe the parties as coalitions. That’s certainly part of it. But I think that “tribes” might be a somewhat more apt description. How your parents voted is a good predictor (no, not pefect, but good) of how you’ll vote. Maybe some parents have taught their kids to care about the same single issue, but I think there’s more to it. People don’t just support one party, they also tend to oppose the other party. If you spend your childhood hearing that one party is just generally immoral and on the side of the lazy people and bureaucrats, well, that’s a good enough reason for vote for the other party. OTOH, if you spend your childhood hearing that one party is evil and greedy and wants everybody except the CEOs to starve, well, that’s a good enough reason to vote for the other party.

    3) Maybe your idea of single-issue voters works if the issues are described in more general terms. For some people it may be as specific as abortion, but for many other people it will be more general, something like “upholding Christian values” or “keeping religion out of government.” For those people, a stance on a particular issue won’t matter unless it’s an extreme position. So, there’s room for wiggle on a parental notification bill or a domestic partner bill, but no room for wiggle on a bill that would ban abortion or grant full marriage rights (with the word “marriage” to signify social acceptance) to gays.

    I guess I’m saying you need to define the single issue broadly for many voters. And their breaking points can come in more than one form: Either a big offense on a single issue, or a lot of small offenses on a variety of issues, all of those issues fitting in some broader category.

  52. I think Herrick and M. Simon made good points.

  53. Daniel,

    Yawn. You think you’re making a point by noting that the government is authorized to do things private citizens are not. Are you a sophmore?

    carrick,

    “I have zero problems with groups of like minded individuals banding together to promote a common good…”

    That’s not the area of disagreement. The difference between liberals and libertarians lies in the latter’s willingness to see those who don’t happen to have such a band, or an effective one anyway, left to their fate. And, of course, the latter’s eagerness to equate misfortune with lack of virtue and good fortune as proof of virtue, as nicely summed up in your phrase, “some individuals to shirk their responsibilities to take care of themselves and others while forcing more responsible individuals.”

  54. Jason Ligon writes: The number of voting people who are holistically libertarians is much closer to 1% than 15%.

    Mona: Well, I suppose it is a semantical argument, as to what constitutes a “holistic libertarian.” In any event, the support for my 15-20% stat is at home, and I, alas, am not.

    Possibly Mona had in mind the Maddox-Lilie study of a quarter century ago. Anyway, Jason is probably thinking of radical libertarians, while Mona has in mind poll results showing that on issues at the margin, almost a quarter of the population took the libertarian side fairly consistently.

    Better than Maddox & Lilie, who started with predetermined scales like the diamond chart, are the (AFAIK) continuing Times-Mirror studies of the American electorate, which use cluster analysis to find and periodically update the points in ideologic and demographic spectrum around which opinions and demographic facts cluster. Several of these clusterings tend to be libertarian enough in effect, by which I do not necessarily mean radically libertarian, that an estimate totaling 20% is still realistic.

    Always keep in mind that we’re grading on the curve. That is, in a world where the avg. person wants to have everyone flogged 10 times daily, the person who wants them to be flogged only 5 times daily must be counted as libertarian, because that’s the only practical way to assess these things.

    Robert

  55. The difference between liberals and libertarians lies in the latter’s willingness to see those who don’t happen to have such a band, or an effective one anyway, left to their fate.

    My belief is that those less fortunate should be helped by those more fortunate via private organizations of like minded folks. I don’t believe they should be left to fend for themselves. However, I also don’t believe that those unwilling to help should be forced to help under penalty of law.

    Irresponsbility comes in two flavors. I have seen the affluent refuse to contribute to good causes because “that’s what the government is for”. And I have seen the less fortunate do nothing to remedy their situation because “that’s what the government is for”.

    Taking care of others is a personal obligation. Taking care of yourself is a personal responsibility. State intervention interferes in both cases.

  56. Joe,

    The government does those things anyway. What bothers me it that people like you praise theft when it is done by governments.

    It is in the nature of governments to be abusive. And it is in the nature of morons to worship governments.

    Not to mention the fact that stuff like Social Security is a constitutional violation. But hey, don’t let a trivial thing like the constitution get in your way.

  57. The difference between liberals and libertarians lies in the latter’s willingness to see those who don’t happen to have such a band, or an effective one anyway, left to their fate. And, of course, the latter’s eagerness to equate misfortune with lack of virtue and good fortune as proof of virtue….

    Nonsense. The difference lies in the liberal’s willingness, nay, enthusiasm in wielding power to compel those who disagree to participate nonetheless in whatever “solution,” however ineffective it may be, the liberal deems appropriately compassionate. There are tens of millions of you folks, joe. Don’t tell us your ranks aren’t large enough to provide these compassionate solutions with your own resources.

    And as for my alleged vaporware, I can just hear you now at the twilight of the feudal system denouncing the emergence of markets as too risky and praising the safety and security of the status quo.

  58. In addition to the power of identity politics there’s the power of special interests. As Friedman noted, the average person (especially average Democratic person) might not care very much about a 1 percent increase in the price of milk due to government regulation or a tax or a subsidy but the milk lobby is going to care very much, to the point they will have a lobbyist in the congressman’s office everyday. But there’s no public outcry over this one percent increase by the public as for the public the increase is so marginal to be barely noticed while for the special industry their livelihood is greatly affected by such increases. Even subsidization in general is just not something that matters much to most people in comparison to how much it matters to people in those industries. Democrats, who are especially tribalistic, are particularly vulnerable to have any of their broader visions and goals (which shrink compared to their narrower interests for their particular pet causes) hijacked by the interests of active and energized special interests who have bought their congresssmen long before.

    Then of course there’s the genetic predispostion to belong to one party over the other (funny, everyone in my family is a Democrat though), as others have noted. So, while there are Democrats who care about things like having a more restrained military, free speech and assembly (Nazi’s marching in Skokie might be a problem though), and one or two other civil libertarian notions with the paying of lip service to the Constitution these things are just so easily crushed by the weight of special interests, tribal associations, genetic predispositions, etc.

    Ridgely is onto something about how many modern Democrats, had they been born in the feudal age, would react to the emergence of markets. But I think it goes even deeper than that. Conservatives would also be fearful and would invoke suggest we are playing God by allowing markets to develop. As Virginia Postrel noted, the dichotomy is probably more accurately described as “dynamist/stasist” rather than “liberal/conservative.” So, when fire was first invented, the stasists among liberals worried about what would happen to the environment or the animal skin industry while the stasists among conservatives said, ‘there goes the neighborhood’ or protested outside the fire circles with signs that said ‘God hates fire starters….oh, and fags, too…he’s not forgotten about them.’

    So, it’s not impossible but overcoming all these forces would be a very tall order.

  59. Speaking of libertarian Democrats, I am curious as to why ReasonOnline is not pushing Frank J. Gonzalez?
    Outside of Ron Paul, I’m not sure if you are going to find a more libertarian Congress-Critter to support.

  60. Henrick et al:

    Unless you have your head up your ass, the Democrats are clearly the better option than the Democrats for a Libertarian. That’s an objective fact. You’re never going to get social security or medicare or medicaid reform under a GOP President…

    And I’d rather rob Peter to pay Paul than rob Peter to kill Ahmed.

    You’re right, you can’t trust the GOP to accomplish economic reforms. However, given that the Democrats have been trying the “We’ll kill Ahmed and oppress you just like the Republicans, and we’ll do it better in some unspecified way!” line since 2004, I’m still not buying the “Democrats are obviously better” line.

    Like I’ve said before, if a Democratic candidate comes out to firmly, consistently say he’ll stop the torture and illegal detention, he’ll get my vote. If the Democrats actually act like they’re any better, maybe they’ll get libertarian votes in general.

    I’d try divided government, but my district goes Democratic in the House and my state pretty firmly Republican in the Presidential and Senatorial races, so it’s kind of out of my hand.

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