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Monday, March 28, 2005

Libertarian Politics

I have mentioned in the comments in a few sites the split between small government Conservatives/libertarians and the religious right which are the primary factions that make up the Republican Party. Historically, when the Democrats held most of the reigns of Federal Power, the two factions were very amicable. The religious right and the small government people both wanted to stop the Democrats from enacting most of their agenda. However, for the their reasons for opposition were very different. The Religious Right has their own agenda that they would like to see enacted while the advocates of smaller government were more or less against any agenda being put into place regardless of its purpose. This schism is become much more visible now that the Republican Party is firmly in control of the Presidency and the Legislature. If the Democratic Party continues to fail electorally this split will become more and more pronounced. The right side of the blogosphere lately has been fairly busy with this schism, which has been highlighted by the Schiavo affair. Bill Quick has put up a list of his reasons for disagreeing with the Bush Administration, some of which I agree with and some of which I don't, and put out a call for suggestions on how to wrest control of the Republican Party from the social conservatives. I think that this is an interesting idea, and certainly worth exploring. First though, a complete understanding of the nature of the problem is important. The Republican Party is not dominated completely by either of these factions. Currently there is a good deal of give and take. George Bush epitomizes this by being, I think anyway, pretty clearly in the center of his party on most issues. He is of course a politician, and that means on issues he doesn't feel strongly about he panders when it is expedient, and while I don't entirely like that I am enough of a realist to accept that we will never reach a utopia that consists of politicians who don't pander. The Republican Party today though does still have a strong small government/libertarian tilt. I would say that it is more social conservative than libertarian, but it is something like 70/30 in terms of policies. I consider the Democratic Party for the most part to be fundamentally opposed to small government concepts so trying to change it's ideology seems futile (although convincing individual Democrats remains feasible. That means a libertarian minded individual should be hesitant to abandon the Republican Party altogether, especially as our governmental system will naturally coalesce to a two party system. So the proper goal of someone who shares my philosophy should be to alter the ideological focus to be more libertarian minded. Understanding the challenges this poses is critical to success in this endeavor. The first challenge is that individuals who desire less intrusive government are a minority of the population. In truth, considering our numbers, we are probably fortunate to have the influence we do. This fact prescribes some tactics, such as demeaning ones opposition or acting as though one's preferred positions had some sort of electoral mandate. The second challenge is that it is always easier to organize and inspire people to be for something specific than against doing something in general. While I prefer a small government it is difficult to be as passionate about that principle, especially when it relates to a specific issue, than someone who desperately wants something done. Specific libertarian issues can be an exception to this (gun control is notable) but that activism doesn't tend to crossover to a broader libertarian activism. Many people who are strongly against Gun Control don't place any importance on keeping the government out of medical entitlements as an example. Additionally, small government advocates are quite naturally individualist in nature, making building an organization even more difficult. This seems to make building an activist core, a counterpart to MoveOn.org for example, a difficult proposition. This second factor largely explains why the religious right has more influence on the Republican Party than small government advocates, although I estimate the population of the two groups is roughly equal. Small government advocates do however have certain strengths to draw on. The most significant is a body of philosophy dating back hundreds of years. Conservative and Libertarian think tanks have continued to expand upon this philosophy. This factor is largely responsible for the numbers and influence this ideology can claim. Given these realities, it seems the best way to build greater consensus for a small government is to continue with what works. It seems to me that well developed arguments aimed at convincing people who feel differently, one at a time if necessary, will be more effective than any sort of flashy new organization or loud calls for creating a new party. The number of libertarian minded bloggers seems to be a natural platform for this sort of campaign, indeed that is all ready largely happening but I think a few specific things should be kept in mind. First, it is important to understand where those who disagree are coming from. For the most part, social conservatives and liberals have desirable goals in mind. Many of the desires of both groups would indeed be nice to have. The trouble is that the costs (in a variety of senses) are too prohibitive or the means inevitably corrupt a desired end. Explaining this requires time and patience not castigation and anger. A good deal of the libertarian thinking over the past several decades has focused on opposing the liberal agenda, to good success. A similar tactic aimed at convincing the religious right would likely be successful as well. Second, we need to always be sure to deal with where we are, not where we wish we were or what the situation would be in an ideal sense. Immigration is a good example of this. No matter what would be desirable, there is simply no way that 10 million illegals are going to be deported. Any solution with that as a component is useful only as fantasy. Philosophically exploring the ideal can be useful, but demanding it instantly as policy is generally not useful. Once again, patient slow progress is the key. Lastly, it is important to remember not to let the perfect be the enemy of the good. This is especially true when dealing with intra-party politics. A scorched earth all-or-nothing attitude will only result in hardening opinions and weakening ones overall leverage. The prescription drug entitlement may be an example of this. For years there has been broad agreement and powerful lobbying for Federal support for prescription drug support. Given that reality, the Bush plan was probably as good as it was going to be from a libertarian perspective. That doesn't mean we have to like it, but keeping in mind what the realistic options are and being willing to compromise for the best of a range of bad options makes us useful political players rather than irrelevant ideologues. So this is my solution for tilting the balance of power in a more libertarian direction. An army of individualists evangelizing for smaller government and limited powers, one person at a time if need be. It isn't flashy or exciting, but I think it workable. Adding in the power of the blogosphere, with its natural focus on individual efforts and ability to aggregate influence without a command and control structure and I think we have a winning combination. If our ideas are right our influence will grow.

11 Comments:

Anonymous GUYK said...

I read this thru your link on the Daily Pundit blog. I think you have made some valid points. If infact we of the libertarian/small government conservative branch of the party represent at least fifty percent then we can make our voices heard if we unite. All it would take is about 10 bucks a piece to buy some of the politicians-or at least rent them for a term. That is what the christian right wing is obviously doing. The left wing has been doing it for years. Count me in when the fun starts.
I am not a Bush fan by no means. I believe that he is a pawn of the religious right. However, I think more of him than any that the democrats have to choose from thus far plus I agree that they have been taken over by the left to the point that their is not much hope of them changing direction.
Reasoniong with the far christian right is nigh impossible. Our best hope is to convince moderate democrats to see our point of view. Many already have and many more can be convinced. One step at a time is what it will take. Win on one major issue and then take on another. I would start with social security-it is a winable one if we get behind it.

3/28/2005 04:10:00 PM  
Blogger Dave Justus said...

I agree that we probably can't reason with the extremists on the religious right, however there are a whole lot of people who are generally socially conservative that can be reasoned with.

These are people who, for example, are concerned about the coarsening of our culture and how to raise their kids in a libertine environment (a valid concern in my opinion) who simple need to be convinced that a government solution is worse then the problem itself. Understaning where they are coming from and taking the time to explain why a small government is best even with their concerns will work.

I am doubtful of the ability or usefullness of small government activists to 'buy' politicians. We can, and should, support those who align most closely with our ideology, but I think an organized group of 'individualists' is probably not going to happen.

I would expect that to achieve our goals, do to the diffuse focus problem I mentioned we would require an absolute majority in the population as a whole and a huge majority in one party to be effective. Getting that majority, not trying to compete issue for issue with focused special interest groups seems to be the key.

3/28/2005 06:01:00 PM  
Anonymous GUYK said...

Dave: maybe we can't 'buy' politicians. I used the term kind of tongue in cheek meaning supporting them with campaign funds. It has worked for the liberal left. I think our best plan to get change is to pick an issue such as fiscal responsibility and get behind it. Libertarians and conservative republicans pretty well agree that the wild spending by congess and signed off on by Bush has to be reigned in. And, this is an issue that probably can be supported by moderate democrats. I really have no problems supporting a conservative democrat-if there is such thing any more.

3/29/2005 09:42:00 AM  
Blogger tsykoduk said...

As a card carrying member of the Libertarian party...

I think that the LP is very important. It needs to set an example. As the years have gone on, we have seen the conservatives starting to court the LP's agenda. I think that this is a perfect tactic. Steal more and more votes from the main stream parties, and watch them court the platforms that are stealing the votes.

However, I do not believe that the government is ever going to shrink. There is too much inertia. A slow shrinking will never work, as people will not allow their favorite entitlements to be chopped, while their neighbors are not. It's going to have to be all or nothing - and the current incarnation of the mainstream parties do not have the political leverage, will, or desire to do so.

As an example of how this inertia works – let's look at the current tax structure. There is a billion dollar a year industry around trying to unravel the overly complex tax code. If we went to a sales tax or flat tax, people would be put of of jobs, companies would close their doors, the IRS would have to lay off a majority of it's employees.

Multiply that by the number of silly federal spending programs that exist. To cut them would be suicide.

If we were to cut programs one at a time, the hue and cry from the 'minority's' that lost their entitlements would be fierce. “Why is the $ 1.4 million given to Gold Fish Fanciers going away, but the $2 million given to the International Water Polo Association! That's not fair!” The only way to be impartial, is to cut them all at once. However, that would put undue stress onto the charities, as they tried to convince people to put their newly gotten wealth (in the form of much lower taxes) into charities, rather then into their pockets.

Shrinking government is a complex issue. I do not think that the “ax” method espoused by many of the Libertarians would work as well as they think. Then again, I do not think the slow shrink will work either. I just hope that the growth of government is stopped, and the ability of government to make moral and other choices for us is curtailed.

3/29/2005 10:36:00 AM  
Blogger Dave Justus said...

guyk: I think that the plan of 'buying' politicians, and I understood what you meant, is fundamentally flawed by the fact that a libertarian agenda is designed at making a politicians services worth less. If you reduce government, you corespondingly reduce the power of a politician and hence his 'value.'

I agree with supporting conservative fiscal responsible democrats, as long as they are not opposed to my most serious political issue which is forward prosecution of the War on Terror.

TsykoDuk: No offence, but I think anyone who decides to join the Libertarian Party is wasting their time, for one thing as you allude to, it is full of kooks. More importantly though, with a winner take all electoral system like we have two parties is a natural state. Until one becomes so powerful that it can safely splinter (in which case we could have 3 parties for a brief time) there will be only two signifigant parties. That is practically built into the system. You can have a much greater effect on the course of the nation, if that is your goal, by joining one of the major parties.

I agree fully that shrinking government is a dream. However, if we work at shrinking it maybe we can at least slow the growth.

3/29/2005 02:08:00 PM  
Blogger tsykoduk said...

Ya know, if I did not write these responses over several hours w/o proofing, I might make more sense!

:)

3/29/2005 07:12:00 PM  
Blogger tsykoduk said...

No offence, but I think anyone who decides to join the Libertarian Party is wasting their time, for one thing as you allude to, it is full of kooks.

Yeah... there are the people who overuse the term meataxe. :)

More importantly though, with a winner take all electoral system like we have two parties is a natural state. Until one becomes so powerful that it can safely splinter (in which case we could have 3 parties for a brief time) there will be only two signifigant parties. That is practically built into the system. You can have a much greater effect on the course of the nation, if that is your goal, by joining one of the major parties.

Here we disagree.

If a 'third' party can muster enought votes to 'steal' an election, then the party who lost needs to look long and hard at how to get those votes back. Kooks aside, I know a lot of LPers that voted Republican this election - simply to keep Kerry out of office. With the thin margins, would Bush have won with out that vote?

The 'major' parties, if they want to get the vote of the people who are splintering off into third parties need to (and are) look into what issues are forcing that, and see if they can add them to their platform.

Loosing 100,000 votes to a third party canidate, and knowing that you lost the election because of that, is a very strong motivator.

IMHO third parties are important to the our political process. They are a fermenting ground for new ideas. They are not afraid to go out on a limb with the ideas - and when and if the idea takes hold it will be co-oped by a major party with the funding and clout to do something with it.

3/29/2005 07:21:00 PM  
Blogger tsykoduk said...

More to home, if Rossi had appealed to the LPers, he would have won. However, he did not.

Ok, I am done now :)

3/29/2005 07:22:00 PM  
Anonymous GUYK said...

Dave, there may be a way to slow down the growth of government. An organazation such as All Us could pushan agenda of freezing taxes and spending at current levels and spending allowed to increase only to the inflation index. This will work assuming that tax receipts increase at the inflation rate. The problem would be getting the politicians to do it. It has been tried before but didn't work--

One other way would require a constitutional amendment. Some states such as Florida are prohibited by their state constitutions from borrowing to finance deficit spending. And, in Florida the state constitution prohibits state income taxes. I doubt that we can get federal income tax repealed. However, there may be a possibility of getting support from moderates of all parties to support a forced balanced budget.

3/30/2005 04:20:00 AM  
Blogger Dave Justus said...

Tsyko: The third party as an idea factory has merit. However I question whether it is more effective to have your think tank in a third party or have it as a faction in a major party.

More particularly, you as an individual could almost certainly be more influencial if you got involved in the politics of a major party, being very active at a local level for starters, than the same degree of activity would get you in the Libertarian party.

I am not 'active' in the Republican Party, I consider myself an independant although I certainly am much more likely to support Republican candidates than Democratic ones. I did give a small contribution to Bush's campaign last year, but that was an expression of my strong support for his foreign policy.

GuyK: I am not certain that tax and spending freezes are a viable plan. Short term they might work, but long term unless we convince a overwelming majority of the importance of a small government and why entitlements are dangerous they won't last. I still think we are better off focusing on the people rather than politicians

3/30/2005 08:41:00 AM  
Blogger tsykoduk said...

The third party as an idea factory has merit. However I question whether it is more effective to have your think tank in a third party or have it as a faction in a major party.

But the major parties only pursue ideas that already have support. A third party can try an idea, and prove that it has support with out endangering the name of the major party.

For example - If a major party came up with the idea that all speed limits should be abolished and tried it, they would be in danger of becoming a laughing stock.

However, if the SpeedersRUs party got, say, 200,000 votes over the nation with a canidate that espoused this policy, the major parties would sit up and take notice.

Then could then weave the idea into their platforms, safe in the knowledge that there are supporters out there.

More particularly, you as an individual could almost certainly be more influencial if you got involved in the politics of a major party, being very active at a local level for starters, than the same degree of activity would get you in the Libertarian party.

I would disagree. The party platform is basically set. They are looking for agreers rather then thinkers. At the lower levels, they are looking for folks to carry the torch, not folks to suggest that perhaps a flashlight would be better then a torch.

By being a voice in the wilderness, educating people one on one, and spending my voting dollars only for canidates that come out and say things that I agree with I get the satisfaction that I am living true to my beliefs and that I am helping.

If I am in a minority, and no one agrees with me, then I take a seat. However, I see that many people do agree with me. They dislike intrusive goverment, they chafe under high taxes and impossible to understand laws.

So, I try and show people that you do not have to vote for the lesser of two evils (Cthulhu for President!) - you can vote your heart and your vote still counts. Sure, your canidate might not win, however you can be sure that some one in each major party is sitting up and taking notice as their poll ratings slip and the so called third parties are gaining ground.

3/30/2005 12:39:00 PM  

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