A Libertarian "Jeffersonian Liberal" Democrat Manifesto


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.