No, Sarvis Isn't Costing Cuccinelli the Virginia Governorship

In today's "No, libertarians are not conservatives who smoke pot" news.


Sometimes people's personal matters are also policy matters.
Credit: Gage Skidmore / Foter.com / CC BY-SA

Over the weekend, libertarian conservative Timothy Carney praised Republican Ken Cuccinelli's libertarian credentials in the race for governor of Virginia. Cuccinelli has taken some strong media hits for being a social conservative, particularly in dealing with gays and abortion. Every major poll has him trailing Democratic candidate Terry McAuliffe. But McAuliffe isn't exactly being showered with voter affection either. As a result, Libertarian Party candidate Robert Sarvis is polling as high as 10 percent.

Carney's analysis of Cuccinelli's libertarian leanings is certainly worth a read, but he seems to think that if Sarvis wasn't in the race, those votes would all come to Cuccinelli. David Weigel sorted through the Washington Post's final poll for the race and discovered Carney's likely to be wrong. Sarvis supporters were asked who they'd vote for if Sarvis weren't running. 53 percent said McAuliffe, and 42 percent said Cuccinelli. The big surprise for me was that only two percent said they wouldn't vote at all, but perhaps that's just my own biases – I couldn't imagine voting for either of the major party candidates if I lived in Virginia.

Carney lamented that not even libertarians are immune to identity politics:

Libertarians, as a rule, support gay marriage [Note: A new poll suggests this is not true. 59 percent of libertarians oppose same-sex marriage], and most libertarians are pro-choice. But pro-life views fit within the libertarian framework: If you believe an in utero baby is a person, and if you believe the government has a legitimate role in protecting the innocent from violence, it's logical to restrict abortion.

And Cuccinelli, while unwavering in his moral opposition to abortion, is a moderate among Virginia Republicans when it comes to government restrictions on abortion: He worked behind the scenes trying to remove a GOP-created requirement that women undergo an ultrasound before getting an abortion.

But the social liberals' attack on Cuccinelli conflates his personal conservatism with his policy views.

In prosecuting a 47-year-old sexual predator who had sex with minor, Cuccinelli defended the state's "Crimes Against Nature" law — thus the charge he wants to "ban sodomy" and hence homosexuality. "I can assure you," Cuccinelli told me, "I don't want to outlaw it — or outlaw contraception."

And on gay issues, he's no busybody: "I support the marriage amendment in our state. It really doesn't go beyond that."

But this is where the identity politics comes in. Taxes, regulations, government spending, gun control and corporate welfare are mere policy matters. Abortion and gay marriage touch on personal matters.

The problem with accepting Cuccinelli's explanation, as ample coverage of his effort to preserve the state's sodomy law has explained, is that the state has had a decade to adjust the law so that it no longer criminalized sexual behavior among consenting adults and did not. Cuccinelli voted against legislation that would have amended the bill to strip out the criminalization of adult sexual behavior. The Supreme Court simply was not going to revisit its sodomy ruling because Virginia failed to fix its laws.

But beyond that, it's problematic for anybody to treat voters as though they are there to serve a party's candidate and not the other way around. If I were a Virginia voter, I would appreciate Carney's efforts to make a libertarian case for Cuccinelli – it is certainly worth nothing the various intersections. But I don't appreciate when pundits, analysts, commentary writers, or what-have-you attempt to tell me I should care less about some issues I care deeply about and instead care more about other issues (which generally just so happen the pundit also cares deeply about). As a gay libertarian, I get this from both sides. I've been told I should vote for economic illiterates on the left because they support gay issues (even though I actually don't support some of these issues, but that's a whole other fight). I generally shrug off the arguments, but I would do the same for Carney here. It's not just a "personal matter." Cuccinelli exhibited poor judgment in his handling of the state's sex crime laws. It's a perfectly valid reason not to want to see him behind the governor's desk for that.

Elsewhere at Reason: Brian Doherty's interview with Sarvis.