Sunday, December 05, 2004

What's a Libertarian to Do?

My earlier post about political realignment ends with an observation and a question:

... The current Republican era will end -- if and when it does -- in the aftermath of an economic, social, or military trauma whose nature and timing are unpredictable.

Will the continuation of the current Republican era be good or bad for the cause of libertarianism? Republicans, for the most part, seem to have given up on "limited government" for the sake of winning elections. Now, the GOP is the party of "relatively limited government." But the alternative -- a return to Democratic dominance -- is probably worse. What's a libertarian to do?

Timothy Sandefur, in his commentary on that post, says:

Now that Dole and the Bushes have almost perfected the elimination of the Goldwater faction of the GOP—to such a degree that party members ridicule Goldwater’s latter-day defense of gay rights as though it was evidence of senility—there is an ever-diminishing role for [libertarians] in that party. Some large libertarian segments, most notably Reason magazine, have simply given up on the right wing, and are overtly courting the left, hoping that social issues will draw the left into greater embrace of economic freedom. I’m really not sure whether that strategy will work—I think the left is as resolutely hostile to individualism as the conservatives are—but do we really have anything to lose? “Libertarian” has become an epithet within the controlling faction of the Republican Party. I for one am sick of it, and were it not for the war, as I’ve said, I would have voted Democrat this year. And I suspect at least some leftists will be drawn to our side if we tell our story right: if we show that the liberation of previously oppressed people must include economic liberty....

Getting the left (i.e., Democrats) to buy into economic liberty may prove to be just as hard as getting Republicans to buy into gay marriage, abortion, and decriminalization of drugs. Bill Clinton alienated much of his party by supporting welfare reform and NAFTA. He also raised taxes (against Republican opposition), tried to nationalize medicine by the back door after his 1993 plan failed (thanks to Republicans), and seldom saw a regulation he didn't like (whereas the Bush administration has slowed the pace of regulation considerably).

Are Democrats likely to offer us another "Clinton" (but not Hillary) anytime soon? Perhaps the results of the 2004 election will cause them to do so. But that prospect doesn't do much to brighten my day. Social freedom has advanced markedly in my lifetime, in spite of rearguard efforts by government to legislate "morality." Government control of economic affairs through taxation and regulation has advanced just as markedly, especially under Democrats.

In sum, libertarians may be repulsed by the moralists who have taken over the Republican Party, but that moralizing, I think, is a lesser threat to liberty than regulation and taxation. For that reason -- and because Republicans are more likely than Democrats to defend my life -- I'm not ready to give up on the GOP.