The "L" Word

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Josh Goodman of Governing magazine noticed that South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford's political foes, ever-grasping for something to hit him with, have taken to calling him something truly Lovecraftian: "Libertarian." Goodman's meditations about the attack are worth reading.

There are a couple of reasons why, given this dilemma, Sanford's detractors—or any critic of a conservative—might try out "libertarian." One is that, in a country with such an entrenched two-party system, anything associated with third parties tends to be exotic. In effect, the message here is that Sanford is a gadfly, a crackpot, or somewhere in between.

The other reason is that "libertarian" is largely a blank slate. Most Americans aren't really very clear on what it means to be a liberal or a conservative. Except for a small, politically engaged group, I doubt they have any idea what it means to be a libertarian. If Democrats set out to brand Republicans as libertarians and libertarians as bad, it's not as though most people will say to themselves, "But Republicans views on the War on Drugs are completely antithetical to the libertarian ethos!"

That said, in a country dedicated to "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness," I'd have to think that "libertarian" comes with at least some intrinsic positive connotations. Sanford, for one, doesn't seem too worried about the term. "I'm an unabashed conservative," he told me, "and sometimes accused of being a libertarian, to which I say, 'I'm guilty, I love liberty.' "

I've gotten the sense all year that "libertarian" is becoming a stronger and stronger brand. The much-debated Ron Paul movement was, in the agregate, a good thing for the brand. He flew just high enough for people to take notice of him without associating him, forever, with the worst decisions of his career. (Maybe this isn't surprising, in a world where Pat "drummed out of the conservative movement" Buchanan is still a highly-paid pundit.) Thanks to Paul the word became associated with old-line conservativism and maverick Republicanism that, while mildly kooky, stood against the mainstream Republicanism that was becoming as popular as a wet Siamese cat with a maw full of parasites and fire ants. I see this as more of an opening than a long-term trend. But it's enough of an opening to help out the Mark Sanfords of the world, as few as they sadly are.

NEXT: Don King Gets No Respect

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  1. Ah, I can see it now. “Libertarians don’t like regulations! They are pro big-business! Also they don’t like taxes, which means the rich will get richer and poor people will be in the streets! And they want your children to be gay drug users who don’t say the pledge of allegiance!”

    It’s a tough brand to sell because it’s scary to both social-cons and nanny-staters.

  2. Libertarianism is the D&D of political philosophy. It’s a fascinating movement, but its most visible representatives are big, verbally aggressive white guys who say weird things about half-elves and child labor laws.

  3. stood against the mainstream Republicanism that was becoming as popular as a wet Siamese cat with a maw full of parasites and fire ants

    New York Boy should stay away from the road kill metaphors.

    Anyway I should shut it…I am simply glad that this is not another Obama conspiracy theory expose’.

  4. say weird things about half-elves

    There is nothing weird about half-elves. Making one then raising one to adulthood makes perfect sense.

    What is weird are half-orcs.

  5. its most visible representatives are big, verbally aggressive white guys

    Guess you never seen any pictures of Jennifer, Akira, or Kerry.

  6. Sanford was described as “libertarian” well before the Paul campaign. The article has it pegged. He is “too” fiscally conservative the self-described conservative Republican caucus in the legislature.

    And libertarians here lambast most Republicans excessive spending.

    As for the social issues, Sanford is “moderate” for South Carolina. He comes from the lowcountry rather than the upstate. While traditional conservatives dominate in the lowcounty, it isn’t “christian right” territory, like the upstate.

    My impression is that “stamping out moral corruption,” isn’t one of his major concerns.

    Still, it isn’t this relative softness on the social issues that leads to the “libertarian” label. It is the hard core fiscal conservativism, and that is part of the libertarian “brand” in SC


  7. Guess you never seen any pictures of Jennifer, Akira, or Kerry.

    Sadly, they may not be the most visible.

  8. We really just need to get to the point where senseless, counterproductive assaults on liberty like the WoD can at least be debated rationally. Once people start talking about it, the obviousness of the truth will become apparent, as it did with things like homosexuality, suffrage, and racial discrimnation.

  9. Libertarians are heartless, evil fiends who steal from the poor to give to the rich. They have lots of guns and want to reinstitute slavery.

    Or, so I’ve been told.

    Oh, yeah- and they hate old people, and they want your poor old grandma to freeze to death in the gutter with nothing to eat but dog food.

  10. Once people start talking about it, the obviousness of the truth will become apparent, as it did with things like homosexuality, suffrage, and racial discrimnation.

    Exactly! And a path to this goal is having an ongoing stream of viable, or at least plausible candidates for office, both local and national.
    At a certain point in his rise, the msm had to talk about Ron Paul.
    So, a ‘Ron Paul’ or at least a Tom Coburn for every election cycle is needed to keep [L|l]ibertarian ideas in the air, being discussed or argued.

  11. “Classical Liberal” was a losing meme from the get-go. “Classical Conservative”! Now *THERE* is a winner!

  12. The much-debated Ron Paul movement was, in the agregate, a good thing for the brand.

    I knew we’d get you to admit it at some point.

    He flew just high enough for people to take notice of him without associating him, forever, with the worst decisions of his career.

    Oh, but there you go again.

  13. A (once) friend once casually remarked, without knowing that I myself was one, that “libertarians just want the poor to starve.” It’s not that he thought libertarian policies might lead to such an outcome, but instead literally believed libertarians *wanted* the poor to starve.

  14. “But Republicans views on the War on Drugs are completely antithetical to the libertarian ethos!”

    Considering that both the Dems and the GOP standard positions on the WOD are basically the same, I don’t think that’s going to be the first objection to a Democrat smearing a Republican with the libertarian label. I also suspect that the general public’s first response on the general question on the War on Drugs is probably favorable. For better or worse, the libertarian opinion is a minority view.

  15. its most visible representatives are big, verbally aggressive white guys

    Guess you never seen any pictures of Jennifer, Akira, or Kerry.

    One of these three things is not like the other two…………….

  16. I still haven’t figured out what’s “kooky” about Ron Paul.

  17. Hint:

    The psycho, heavily medicated, militant atheist guy………

  18. Jesus Haploid Christ, Wiegel. I can’t believe that you’re STILL trying to smear Ron Paul over those newsletters. Have you been studying with the scientologists or something? FUCK YOU.

    -jcr

  19. I still haven’t figured out what’s “kooky” about Ron Paul.

    “Fix-It-Again-Tony” money

    It is the third rail of sane politics

  20. Once people start realizing that gay marriage and medical marijuana* are no brainer issues, libertarianism will start to replace brain-dead neoconservatism.

    *I’d say the “drug war,” but who am I kidding? Not even many liberals can get behind that.

  21. Terrorific:

    I still haven’t figured out what’s “kooky” about Ron Paul.

    You’ve convinced me. I am intrigued by his ideas and would like to subscribe to his newsletter.

    Oh wait…

    But seriously, he is seen as kooky for three reasons.

    1) He champions causes that are even fringe in libertarian circles, such as the gold standard. Note: I agree with him on monetary policy, but people consider me kooky too.

    2) He cannot speak or defend his ideas well.

    3) If you’ve ever been to a Ron Paul event, then you will know that his followers are quite kooky and that perception rubs off on him. His group of supporters was generously seasoned with reclusive introverts, anti-social internet nerds, 9/11 truthers, other conspiracy nuts, social security and income tax protesters, draft dodgers from the ’60s that the government still hadn’t caught, extreme nationalists, people living out of vans, people with beards, denizens of 4chan /b/, people with mild psychological disorders, people wearing “V for Vendetta” masks, religious extremists, and atheists. He was largely missing the middle-class, middle-age family demographic and the elderly person demographic.

  22. Oh, I forgot Christian Scientists, neo-pagan/wiccan/druids, people in costumes, people who were formerly members of a third party, racists, prostitutes, brothel owners, secessionists, and a few more groups that I can’t think of right now.

    Note: I have no problem with these people. I’m just saying that if they are your supporters, you might be viewed as kooky.

  23. The problem with the Nolan Chart, is that it makes people think that liberals are in favor of personal freedoms. That’s not true. Liberal are in favor of personal freedoms as long as they’re not something already illegal, like drugs, prostitution, etc. So while they are in favor of gay marriage, they remain adamantly opposed to those two married men to smoke pot in their bedroom or hire a male prostitute to fill out a threesome.

  24. Liberal are in favor of personal freedoms as long as they’re not something already illegal, like drugs, prostitution, etc.

    Not quite. They also tend to be against owning firearms or SUVs, making “excess profits,” eating meat or various other foods that taste good, homeschooling children, running private (particularly religious) schools, smoking tobacco, participating in most forms of competition, being overweight, and lots of other things they see as anti-communitarian.

  25. Jacob is funny

  26. Jacob | August 4, 2008, 9:50pm | #

    Oh, I forgot Christian Scientists, neo-pagan/wiccan/druids, people in costumes, people who were formerly members of a third party, racists, prostitutes, brothel owners, secessionists, and a few more groups that I can’t think of right now.

    Oh, Raelians, college kids for whom more weed is the fundamental political motivator, anti-zionists, Christian Exodus members, economics professors from local colleges, comic book store owners, The League of Women Ferret Owners, guys who want very much to add a bazooka to their personal arsenal, and maybe a lot of one-off people who’ve been SERIOUSLY audited by the IRS.

  27. It’s often helpful to point out that Reagan said, “I believe the very heart and soul of conservatism is libertarianism.”

    https://www.reason.com/blog/show/121527.html

    He said that in an interview with a superlative publication named Reason! As related in the link, I had occasion to speak with Reagan about that interview.

    But what’s far more important than anyone’s single observation is that it’s manifest that libertarianism was the paramount founding idea of our republic!

  28. “I’ve gotten the sense all year that “libertarian” is becoming a stronger and stronger brand. The much-debated Ron Paul movement was, in the agregate, a good thing for the brand. ”

    This is just the sort of rot I’d expect from Weigel, particularly after his biased reporting from the LP convention. Weigel comes across as a closet conservative.

    What is the “stronger brand” associated with this?

    Is is being anti-choice on immigration? How about being anti-immigrant? We can add into the mix claiming that separation of church and state is a constitutional fraud and shouldn’t happen. We can say we support state’s rights and let them trump individual rights. We can oppose overturning D.C.s sodomy laws, erect a wall on the border, introduce bans on flag burning and promote a constitutional amendment pushing prayer in government schools. We can do all that with this “stronger brand” that Weigel stupidly drones about. For good measure we can top it off with crazy conspiracy crap about “international bankers” and secret plots to impose the “Amero” and a “NAFTA Superhighway”.

    Yep, that’s precisely the “stronger brand” that libertarianism should embrace. Only problem is that none of it is libertarian. It’s paleoconservativism. Next thing you know Weigel will be telling us Pat Buchanan is the greatest libertarian around.

  29. The psycho, heavily medicated, militant atheist guy………

    Rumor has it that he is not white.

  30. Jacob & GILMORE-
    What? No Methodists?

  31. What? No Methodists?

    He said:
    “religious extremists, and atheists”

    That covers most methodists. 🙂

  32. Dave Weigel gives us the proof of his existence:

    “I write about the Ron Paul newsletters, therefore, I am.”

    Actually the ticket goes to Jacob, who apparently thinks Ron Paul isn’t “bourgeoise” enough for his tatses. It may very well be true that Paul, unintentionally I might add, attracts kooks to his cause. A campaign that focused only on libertarian “cosmos” may very well have made you feel better, but would have never drawn over a million votes.

    You cosmos may very well be on the Orange Line, but there ain’t enough of you to fill all the subways, much less the voting booths.

  33. Oh, I forgot Vegans, Pro Wrestlers, and Starchild.

  34. I think “liberals” are for personal freedom to the extent it can be used as a weapon against the common culture or tradition.

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