Worth Readingby Tim Dunkin
It is pretty apparent to most conservative commentators that the Republican Party still doesnâ€™t get it. The GOP has a golden opportunity this year to recapture at least the House of Representatives, and maybe even the Senate, depending on whose optimistic predictions you believe. Poll after poll after poll shows Republicans way ahead in a lot of places where they really have no right to be. The reason for this is because people are fed up with the spending, the debt, the taxation, with having big government crammed down their throats. Overwhelming numbers of Americans take conservative stands on reining in government, overturning ObamaCare, worrying about our skyrocketing deficits, and so much more. The facts on the ground are these â€“ Americans want less government, we want the government to stop spending our money, we want the government to respect our Constitution and the freedoms enshrined therein.
Yet, the GOP establishment keeps missing all of this. Mike Steele, the ostensible face of the national Republican Party, seems more worried about telling the nation that a black man canâ€™t make it in the Party of Lincoln than he is in telling Americans what the GOP is planning to do to fix the problems the Democrats have caused. Too many GOP elected officials are still playing the â€œgo along to get alongâ€ game, reaching across the aisle so they can get their â€œgood boyâ€ pats from the mainstream media. This isnâ€™t helping the Party, either with its own base or with critical independent voters who will be necessary for victory in November.
The obvious question to all of this is â€“ what needs to be done to change this state of affairs?
With this in mind, it was with interest that I read my fellow Renew America contributor Bonnie Albaâ€™s article entitled â€œElect More Non-Conforming Libertarian-Republicans.â€ I want to say, I understand her impetus, but I donâ€™t fully agree with her emphasis.
Primarily, I do not think that turning to â€œlibertariansâ€ is going to be what advances the liberty movement among patriotic Americans citizens such as the Tea Partiers. I want to clarify this remark by noting that I perhaps am employing a bit different definition of the term â€œlibertarianâ€ than Bonnie is. The descriptions she uses â€“ shrinking the government, reducing taxes, reducing the debt, supporting a strict constructionist approach to the Constitution â€“ these are all conservative ideas which have been part of the conservative mainstream for decades. To the extent that they are libertarian ideals, it is because these libertarian ideals coincide with conservatism, rather than being opposed to it. Bonnie states,
â€œGiven a choice, the elite Washington free-spending crowd or the nonconforming Libertarian-Republicans, citizens may just choose the ones who adhere to the U.S. Constitution over and against the careerist so-called conservative Republicans and liberal-progressive Democrats.â€
I think this needs repeating â€“ with the emphasis being placed on the fact that the careerist, conforming, go-along-to-get-along â€œconservativeâ€ Republicans are â€œso-called.â€ These career politicians do not represent true conservatism. They perhaps did once, when they were fresh-faced young pups being shown around D.C. for the first time after being elected from somewhere or another in flyover country. However, to the extent that they became entrenched and started rolling in the trough of spending, pork-barreling, piling on higher debts, and the rest, they ceased to be conservative. Conservatism is one of those things that you either have or you donâ€™t. There is no being a conservative at the same time that youâ€™re supporting bigger government, less liberty, and a rejection of the Constitution. The moment you start doing that, you cease to be a conservative.
Hence, most all of what we see Bonnie touting as the province of libertarian-Republicans is simply traditional fiscal conservatism that Republicans used to hold to, and which the large majority of the Republican rank-and-file (which is where the strength of the Tea Parties is largely drawn from) still does. Indeed, to make her point she cites the oft-abused quote from Ronald Reagan,
â€œIf you analyze it I believe the very heart and soul of conservatism is libertarianism.â€
Well, I think we need to take this into context, and this brings me to my point of emphasizing the need for non-conforming conservative, rather than libertarian, Republicans. I think we all can understand that when Reagan said this in 1975, by â€œlibertarianismâ€ he did not mean what characterizes much of professing libertarianism today, by which I mean social libertarianism. Reagan did not mean that brand. This was a President who set up government commissions to investigate the social dangers of pornography. This was the President who opposed abortion, who aggressively pushed government anti-drug activities, and who strengthened the efforts to continue proscribing openly-serving gays from the military. In the social realm, at least, Reagan was certainly no libertarian hero.
And for that, I am glad.
See, by â€œlibertarianism,â€ Reagan was referring to fiscal libertarianism, which is really just fiscal conservatism â€“ or perhaps the two are better simply being subsumed under the non-denominational term â€œfiscal responsibility.â€ This is also the libertarianism that Bonnie seems to have been referring to. Yet, I quibble with her terminology because when I hear the term â€œlibertarianism,â€ I do not confine it to simple fiscal responsibility. I understand that term to be all-encompassing of all libertarian ideology â€“ the social as well as the fiscal, the anti-metaphysical and Objectivist instead of the metaphysical and Judeo-Christian tradition. And this, I believe, is alien to the tradition of American liberty.
Doctrinaire libertarianism isnâ€™t just about fiscal responsibility. Libertarian ideologues believe abortion is a sovereign right of the individual. So is allowing the homosexual movement to foist off its call for special rights (which is what gay marriage is about) under cover of â€œindividual liberties.â€ Whatever you put into your own body is fine â€“ even if, like PCP or angel dust, it is known that it can cause you to be a menace to everyone else around you. Doctrinaire libertarianism is in support of a whole host of socially radical positions which actually undercut the basis of our traditional, Lockean understanding of liberty. Social libertarianism, in short, is a rejection of the vitally necessary principle of self-government. So when I hear the idea floated that we need â€œlibertarianâ€ Republicans, I tend to look askance at it.
Doctrinaire libertarians themselves understand this point, and that is why they go out of their way to part ways with traditional conservatives. Think Iâ€™m being paranoid? Well, okay, letâ€™s look at the curious case of Rand Paul in Kentucky. Rand Paul, who labels himself a â€œconstitutional conservativeâ€ despite sometimes being described as a libertarian, recently won the GOP primary to run for Kentuckyâ€™s Senate seat being vacated by Jim Bunning. Paul, the son of Ron Paul, is actually quite a bit less out of the mainstream on issues such as defense policy and the war on terrorism than his father is. I like Rand Paul. I supported him during the primary (which was, of course, largely symbolic since I am not a Kentuckian) over his establishment schlub opponent. It was formerly thought that libertarians in Kentucky also liked him. Rand Paul even went to the mat for one tenet of doctrinaire libertarianism on Rachel Maddowâ€™s show when he patiently tried to explain to her that Title II of the 1964 Civil Rights Act was anti-constitutional because it infringes on the right of businesses to associate with who they choose, in what was described by some commenters as a â€œlibertarian seminar.â€ Incidentally, Rand was largely correct, and it bears mentioning that he did not say that he opposes the Civil Rights Act itself.
So, Rand took the hit for libertarianism. But how does it repay him? Well, as an example, Jacob Sullum over at the inappropriately named Reason magazine published a hit piece attacking Rand Paul for his completely reasonable (and indeed quite Lockean) 100% pro-life position. Sullumâ€™s beef? Paul goes beyond merely wanting to overturn Roe v. Wade, believing instead that the government has a positive role in protecting the lives of the unborn, even to the point of supporting a Human Life Amendment. Further, the Libertarian Party of Kentucky has thrown Paul under the bus, refusing to support him because he is pro-life, pro-traditional marriage, and he refuses to call for American troops to leave Iraq and Afghanistan, and says that it â€œmayâ€ run a candidate of its own in the Senate race.
So, the former star of libertarian circles is now persona non grataâ€¦because he opposes abortion, gay marriage, and supports a pro-American foreign policy?
This speaks volumes, and shows why I simply donâ€™t trust those who bill themselves as â€œlibertarians,â€ Republicans or otherwise. When the rubber meets the road, they are simply not with conservatives on a whole host of social and defense issues that are still very important, despite what Mitch Daniels might think. Make no mistake â€“ social conservatism is just as important a part of conservatism as the fiscal, for without the self-government encouraged by social conservatism, you will not have the fiscal moderation needed to maintain a balanced budget or to refrain from picking everyone elseâ€™s pockets the next time you want to buy votes with an â€œentitlementâ€ program. You need both. Without social conservatism, you have a libertarian. Without fiscal conservatism, you have a populist. Neither is conservatism, both deviate from the traditionally-understood dynamics of ordered liberty that used to govern the way the individual and state interacted in America.
So Iâ€™m sorry Bonnie, but I canâ€™t agree that we need more libertarian-Republicans. Indeed, I think libertarian-Republicans are part of the reason why weâ€™re where we are today. Instead, Iâ€™d like to see some non-conforming conservative Republicans who actually mean what they say they. And we have a whole host of them rising to the top, if we can just clear out the current crowd occupying Washington. So letâ€™s do it. As conservatives, we need to get together, get active, and get the â€œso-calledâ€ conservatives out of Washington, and replace them with the real thing.