Optimism About the New Libertarian Age


Interesting and very long Associated Press story, via the Alton Telegraph, in which I'm quoted, that takes a very optimistic view of the prospects of a resurgence of libertarian thought in the Republican Party and American politics and culture in general. While the specifics the author cites are true enough, from Ron Paulite takeovers of various state Republican Parties to an inchoate sense of weariness with pointless nannyism, I vacillate myself in how much hope I place on them.

That said, some highlights:

In its annual governance survey conducted last fall, Gallup found that a record-high 81 percent of Americans were dissatisfied with the way the country was being governed. There were increases, too, in the responses to questions that gauge a more libertarian-view of governance: A record 49 percent said they believed government posed "an immediate threat to the rights and freedoms of ordinary citizens"; 57 percent believed the federal government had too much power; and 56 percent said they would be willing to pay less in taxes and accept fewer services (a position advocated during the campaign by Paul).

But do we really need numbers to confirm the strong libertarian-like streak running through the nation of late? Instead, just look to the rise of the tea party with its smaller-government, "back-off" mantra. Or take in some of the signs posted along U.S. roads these days, like this one outside of Wickenburg, Ariz.: "Choose Freedom. Stop Obamacare." Or consider the backlash after New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg proposed banning large servings of sugary sodas.

The libertarian message is especially attractive to younger Americans who are war-weary, socially liberal and skeptical of government interference in their lives. They've grown up paying into Medicare and Social Security but hearing – endlessly – that they're unlikely to receive the benefits of those programs. They see many government initiatives as unnecessary evils, and believe social issues such as abortion and gay marriage are matters of personal choice not political debate.

Many pondered why Ron Paul, at 76 years old, attracted throngs of 20-somethings to his rallies and, according to exit polls, consistently won the 18-29 age bracket early in primary season in states such as New Hampshire and Iowa.  

Ron Paul's rEVOLution: The Man and the Movement He Inspired

Twenty-six-year-old Alexander McCobin has a response for that: "This is the most libertarian generation that's ever existed, and it's because libertarianism is just correct."

Four years ago, McCobin co-founded the group Students For Liberty, which now has some 780 affiliates…

In a 2010 paper, Cato concluded that libertarians "are increasingly a swing vote … a bigger share of the electorate than the much discussed 'soccer moms' of the 1990s or 'NASCAR dads' of the early 2000s, and bigger than many of the micro-targeted groups pursued by political strategists in the 2004 and 2008 elections."

Many of these voters would describe themselves as independents, a group that both candidates desperately need in order to win, said Samples. The libertarian view of limited government and free market economics usually pushes these voters toward Republican candidates, even if their social views are more in line with the Democratic Party.

But as the Cato study pointed out, such voters are not firmly committed to either of the two major parties…

….this is neither a passing fad nor a "Ron Paul phenomenon" that will fade once he's gone from the scene. [Nevada Paul supporters and GOP activists Carl and Richard Bunce] see hope in other up-and-coming libertarian-leaning Republicans: Justin Amash, a Michigan congressman seeking re-election whom Reason magazine christened "the next Ron Paul"; Kurt Bills, a Minnesota state representative who is running for U.S. Senate; and, of course, Rand Paul.

"Everything we've done up to this point is based on ideas. … It carries on well past Congressman Paul," said Carl Bunce. "Hopefully we'll start to bring more voters to bear into the Republican Party – all those apathetic voters that were like myself."

When that happens, he said, "our ideas of liberty and freedom will persist."

For more on the general trends this story discusses, see both my new book Ron Paul's Revolution: The Man and the Movement He Inspired and the out-in-paperback classic by my Reason colleagues Matt Welch and Nick Gillespie, The Declaration of Independents: How Libertarian Politics Can Fix What's Wrong with America.