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Looking at libertarians again

Awhile back I wrote about how there would be opportunities available for Democrats to make a pitch to Libertarian voters in the next election (here and here). Today Jim Henley points me to this article by W. James Antle III about the incipient breakup of the 40-year-old conservative/libertarian coalition.

The commitment to limited government and constitutionalism that animated Barry Goldwater is conspicuously missing from today’s Republican Party and, worse, the conservative movement. Fred Barnes recently wrote approvingly of “big government conservatism,” arguing that efforts to shrink government should be abandoned because “people like government so long as it’s not a huge drag on the economy.” And Irving Kristol described a “neoconservative persuasion” that Arnold Kling recognized to be in conflict with libertarian principles.

The end result of all this is that many libertarians see no compelling reason to support the Republican right they identify with John Ashcroft and Sen. Rick Santorum. By default this means that they often end up working with the left. They’ve joined with the ACLU and other traditionally liberal civil libertarian organizations to oppose Patriot Act-style legislation (although some prominent conservatives joined them in opposition). Antiwar libertarian bloggers and Internet columnists often link to left-of-center websites like Indymedia, Common Dreams, and CounterPunch in making their arguments.

I don’t pretend to believe that large numbers of libertarians who are long used to pulling the lever for Republicans are suddenly going to vote Democratic in 2004. The thing is, though, we don’t actually need that many in our evenly-divided electorate. Heck, as long as they’re not voting for Republicans, it doesn’t really matter if they’re voting Democratic or Libertarian or just plain abstaining. Every little bit will help.

There are any number of things that the Democrats can do to encourage libertarians to look for alternatives to the Republican Party. They can, of course, start to champion some of the causes that libertarians hold dear, but as some of the bigger ones directly conflict with important planks in the Democratic platform, that option is somewhat limited. Far easier would be to stop doing certain things that annoy libertarians, such as the ill-conceived recent legislative crackdowns on file sharers and rave parties. A continued and intense focus (rather like a laser beam, as someone once said) on the excesses of John Ashcroft, Rick Santorum, Roy Moore and the entire theocratic wing of the Republican Party would be wise. And of course, if one wants to be a bit Machiavellian, one could also encourage the Libertarian Party to run a strong candidate for President in 2004. (Anyone have Ron Paul‘s phone number?)

For what it’s worth, Howard Dean is probably in as good a position to maximize this effect as any Democratic Presidential candidate. There is a Libertarians For Dean group, though unlike almost every other group-for-Dean they don’t have their own web page. However, as Henley and Antle make clear, there are plenty of reservations about Dean as well, so I’d consider it foolish to expect much more than grudging or least-of-evils type support.

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  1. Angry Bear says:

    Try the cynical approach:

    Hey Libertarians–both parties are going to spend your money (though signs indicate Republicans will spend much more of it). But Democrats don’t care who you have sex with or how you do so; we care a lot less about what you put in your own body; and we’re much less inclined to spy on you.

    On a more serious note, if Libertarians go for Bush in 2004, it can only be the bizzare result of some sort of Patty Hearst syndrome.

  2. Kevin Whited says:

    The Dems need only make their social libertarianism more prominent than their economic statism to hurt the GOP. Likewise, the GOP endangers the partnership by growing the administrative/redistributive state and emphasizing social issues. It will be interesting to see if libertarians desert the GOP significantly in 2004, since it will be a good gauge whether they fear Dem economic statism or the sociocons more.

  3. Logan Ferree says:

    Actually we do have a webpage up. Well a blog at least.