Having worked out a lot of their racial anima on the Trayvon Martin case, rightbloggers have returned to their bombed-out bunkers to contemplate the future. Their latest big deal is “libertarian populism.”
The phrase seems oxymoronic, but the idea is to make conservatives and their agents in the GOP walk the walk on libertarian issues — excepting, naturally, the social issues that always seem to disappear when such discussions take place. From the arguments on offer, the result seems the worst of both worlds.
As we have said repeatedly, libertarianism is a niche brand of conservatism, and in these parlous times for conservatism there are a lot of rightbloggers who want to more overtly associate libertarianism with the parent brand, in hopes of exciting the interest of voters.
“The most important movement in American politics right now is the libertarian one,” claimed Nick Sorrentino at Against Crony Capitalism. How did he know? He was “speaking with some folks in DC yesterday” — whom, he later let us know, were “a generally ‘conservative’ crowd” — and found that “everyone was talking about the Amash NSA vote in the House.” He refers to the recent vote to defund the U.S. spying operation, led by Republican Rep. Justin Amash, which gained bipartisan support — in fact, was mostly supported by Democratic votes — but was finally defeated, as happens to most things the Party leaders want defeated, even if they had to release more votes than usual in this case to do it.
Anyway, this conservative group’s interest, which you or we might consider a small sample group at best, represented to Sorrentino a groundswell. “Government is never reduced,” he said. “Never. Year to year it never ever gets smaller. Many people who have long called themselves ‘conservative’ are starting to ask why this is.”
Our readers will have their own answers for that — a leading candidate being, “because conservatives like to yell about Big Gummint but are actually okay with it so long as it benefits them and hurts others” — but Sorrentino thinks the sheeple (GOP edition) are really awakening and ready to overthrow their leaders for someone more like Ron Paul.
You can see why he’d think so. Rightbloggers eager to churn up support for their political candidates have brought a lot of libertarian palaver into their acts — for example, perorating about America’s “Ruling Class” (comprised, in their imagining, mainly of Democrats) who would soon be overthrown by the real patriots, namely those demonstrators in tricorners and knee-breeches who captured the nation’s imagination a few years back.
But the Tea Party’s old news now, and can barely even get conservatives excited about a rally for gun rights. At the same time, with Americans disturbed by NSA spying (now that they’ve learned not just brown foreigners but also white Americans are included on the watchlist), there’s still plenty of opportunity for hucksters willing to work the Freedom side of the street. The flintlock-and-screaming-eagle imagery no longer moves the needle, so some promoters of the schtick are going right to the libertarian source.
We should note that there is a site called “Libertarian Republican” run by Eric Dondero and mostly devoted to racist gibberish (“Ain’t many Mexican cabbies in NYC, if any at all? Our bets on the perp being Muslim”). But such libertarian big brains as the Washington Examiner‘s Timothy P. Carney are talking about something more intellectual-like.
Carney talked about making libertarianism the doctrine of the “regular guy,” rather than just that of anti-social science fiction fans who stand too close to you when they talk. Carney proposed that, in addition to the anti-Big Gummint guff Republicans have been dishing out since Reagan, the Party adopt some Ron Paul policies, e.g. “Break up the big banks, and/or place stricter safety and soundness rules on them,” and “End corporate welfare.”
Carney was smart enough to leave out drug law reform, abortion, and other social issues which no -tarian, conserva- or otherwise, likes to talk about when addressing voters, and to lard in tax-cutting and Obamacare-ending, which goes over big with even the least intellectual conservatives. Still, the idea that the Republican Party might advocate breaking up the big banks or “end corporate welfare” remains hilarious to sentient adults.
Nonetheless rightbloggers discussed it as if it were meaningful.
At Bloomberg, Ramesh Ponnuru loved the tax-cutting and Obamacare-ending, but questioned the libertarians’ ability to make “vote-winners out of such issues as the abolition of the Export-Import Bank.” (Column title: “Libertarians Are Leading Republicans to Doom.”)
At libertarian flagship Reason, Jesse Walker was slightly less skeptical. “A federally mandated corporate breakup can be a net gain for economic liberty,” he admitted; he named as an example “when the Justice Department hammered AT&T in 1982.” But Ma Bell’s demise still betrayed true libertarianism, because it “also introduced a lot of new rules and, in the process, new ways for telecom companies to game the regulatory system.”
But “LibPops,” as Walker called them, “can still claim other victories.” Why, look, Rahm Emanuel came out against the bailed-out AIG’s bonuses! Emanuel is not, to say the least, a Republican, but “he had a point about which way public opinion was tilting,” said Walker, “and his argument carried the day.” And Walker had earlier written a column of his own against the bonuses — surely you must see the connection. “If an inchoate outpouring of political disgust can scuttle that much,” said Walker, “imagine what a more self-conscious LibPop movement could achieve…”
Walker also endorsed “an anti-bailout constitutional amendment,” which would bring us closer to the Founders’ idea of the role of government.
Oddly, Walker made no mention of Senator Elizabeth Warren’s “new Glass-Steagall bill.” Why, isn’t she just as good a Republicrat as Rahm Emanuel? And isn’t her bill meant to stick it to the big banks, the way LibPops intend? As Bill Black and Yves Smith have pointed out, libertarians should love it.
Walker and Reason are at this writing silent on the bill, though libertarian Alex Tabarrok of Marginal Revolution called it “puzzling… Separate commercial and investment banking? Please.” Tabarrok instead favored, not breaking up, but further unifying the big banks: “Instead of separating commercial and investment banking, Gorton and Metrick would erase the distinction entirely by making all credit creators regulated commercial banks.” The Regular Guy should prefer that, right?
“I’m not a libertarian,” said Matt Purple at The American Spectator, “…but if you look at the structural policy problems of the moment, libertarian populism is the most convincing philosophical tonic out there.” For one thing, “Washington, subsisting on the borrowed money of government, has experienced growth during the recession that is unique among American cities,” gaining jobs and citizens, and this success story proves “government needs to be downsized,” lest it spread to other jurisdictions.
At the Washington Examiner, Conn Carroll was optimistic. Instead of telling voters you want to end the mortgage deduction because liberty, he proposed, what if “you said you wanted to end the biggest tax break used by the wealthiest Americans?… And did I mention that the Americans hit hardest by ending this special tax break would be ultra-liberal wealthy elites in New York, San Francisco, and Hollywood? You don’t think middle americans might find that policy attractive?” He admitted it wouldn’t be easy — “If it was easy it would have been done already” — but look, New York, San Francisco, and Hollywood! Surely there are folks out there for whom these are still viable bogeymen.
Reason chief Nick Gillespie took heart from the Amash NSA effort, and told us “unlike the situational hawks and doves of both parties… don’t expect Amash, Massie, and the others to flip their wigs if and when the GOP wins back the Senate or the White House.” But why would we expect that? In addition to his principled stand on NSA, Amash has voted to increase the burden on citizens receiving food stamps and make it easier for states to take them away, ban late abortions, overturn Obama’s immigration executive order, etc. If he wants to mix a little libertarianism with his otherwise perfectly normal Republican-conservative record, why would any Republican voter object?
Among our favorite comments on the subject was that of Reason’s Scott Shackford*, who said he was “holding out a slight bit of hope that [The Newsroom auteur Aaron] Sorkin… will ultimately recognize that the Tea Party and the Occupy movement are both very much interested in some of the exact same issues, but are coming to the same place from different directions,” which is rather like saying Theodor Herzl and Adolf Hitler were just coming at the Jewish Question from different directions.
Many risk-averse Republicans were not having any of this stuff, including Chris Christie, one-time Republican Presidential fave who alienated some dead-enders by working with President Obama after Hurricane Sandy. Christie denounced libertarianism as “dangerous” in a recent forum, and suggested the Rand Paul contingent talk to 9/11 widows and orphans about disassembling the national security apparatus.
This kind of stuff was of course Republican S.O.P. back in the days when President George W. Bush was in the saddle, but times have changed. In such intellectual redoubts as Fox News’ The Five, Christie’s comments caused dissension between conservatives who wanted to at least pretend to give a shit about the Bill of Rights and conservatives who wanted to maybe win another Presidential election someday.
Other forcefully opposed Christie. “The Big Mouth that costs the Republicans the election is back at it again,” said Libertarian Republic. “…Calling Christie a RINO has no meaning because the term RINO has no meaning. That’s because the term Republican has no meaning. Republican has never meant conservative, libertarian, small government, or anything else we have been fooled to believe it means… The Republican establishment likes to use the Tea Party, the libertarian wing of the party, and the limited government folks when it is convenient (election time) for them then they dump them like a scumbag boyfriend who just knocked his girl up.” Well, the GOP is sure making a mistake alienating this potential voter.
“Wanna know another reason why I could never support Chris Christie for president?” asked Chris Wysocki of WyBlog. “His undying love for the omnipresent police state… Had he been around in 1776, I’m sure Christie wouldn’t have batted an eye when King George’s precursor to MI5 demanded Thomas Jefferson’s email passwords.”
At National Review, Christie was attacked by David French, who is against not only abortion but also contraception rights, but likes to do a little libertarianism now and then, particularly when it helps him attack Obama — and, sure enough, French managed to work the IRS, Fast & Furious, and Benghazi into his “libertarian” argument. (French has also argued for a “libertarian military,” which in his view means one that kills rather than tries to help people in the countries we invade. See, more conservative-libertarian consensus!)
“Libertarians are an important part of the Republican coalition,” sputtered Ramesh Ponnuru. “Republican politicians frequently disagree with libertarians on issues, but a broad-brush attack will understandably anger them.” Then they might retreat to their Heinlein and hentai collections and not vote at all!
Conor Friedersdorf of The Atlantic said Christie “exploited” the 9/11 dead, and added, “if a demagogue forced me to argue in front of” Christie’s widows and orphans, “here’s what I’d say.” We’ll mostly spare you, but must share his closing: “I’m sorry again for your loss, and I regret that Governor Christie dragged you into this. Without invoking your suffering, his arguments aren’t compelling enough to persuade a majority that he’s correct.” Maybe this is the real connection between libertarianism and conservatism: Both have a way of making perfectly reasonable civil liberties arguments sound repulsive. In fact, maybe that’s the whole idea!
Then there is the little matter of the Civil War, which a not insignificant segment of libertarians think was won by evil Statists. A recent story about the association of Rand Paul — who just months ago went to Howard University to tell black people Republicans were on their side — with neo-Confederate nutcake Jack Hunter returned attention to the subject; and libertarians have been doing a bad job of deflecting it again.
At The Umlaut, for example, J. Arthur Bloom was very emphatically against the neo-Confederacy, but yet asked that we understand the Stars ‘n’ Bars boys: After all, said Bloom, “the Union represented the same forces in large part responsible for the disenfranchisement of post-industrial towns — capitalism, modernity, and the farcical impersonation of self-government we call democracy.” So think what these poor guys have lost! Bloom was also against “grey scares” that tried to ferret the faux-rebels out of the movement; “there’s no innocent side in politics,” he said; “the Free Beacon reporter who wrote the story on Jack Hunter once approvingly quoted Meir Kahane… So you won’t hear me calling for Jack Hunter’s head… The headhunters are worse.”
At Ordinary Gentlemen, Jason Kuznicki was still more emphatic in condemning the Confederacy, but hastened to assure us he did so because he wanted to make sure “the many, many enemies of libertarianism will have to argue directly against liberty” rather than just saying fuck you and your pro-slavery cause. If you’re still not convinced, Kuznicki denounced Lincoln as thoroughly as any Free Republic poster would wish, and endorsed secession “in principle… Our Constitution would be much improved if it provided an explicit process for states and regions to leave the Union by their own choosing, and without anyone else’s consent.” He added that “the most justifiable cause of secession is to preserve individual liberty. The least justifiable is to repress individual liberty. And there is no doubt which one the Confederacy served.” But don’t worry, when Kuznicki gets the Constitution secession-friendly, that bad kind of secession will be driven out by the good kind, on account of the Invisible Hand.
Maybe the best thing for rightbloggers to do is go back to Plan A, and just say Republicans are libertarians when it suits them, as Elizabeth Roback Morse once did with — honest to God — Rick “Man-on-Dog” Santorum. Everybody knows what they’re going to do when they get power (tax breaks for the wealthy and persecution of minorities); the rest is pretty talk, or at least talk.
Update: Shackford’s name misspelled in original. Regret the error etc.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on July 28, 2013