An ongoing debate happening over at Tam’s on the two parties being relatively the same. A commenter noted:
If that were true, it would be nice. Unfortunately, in America, one party believes in governmental regulation and government solutions to problems, and the other believes in governmental regulation and government solutions to problems. The only difference between the parties is which problems they want government to solve.
This is pretty much true. I lean GOP not because they are the party of liberty, but because, on balance, the places they want to take government which I don’t approve of have more Constitutional protections than where the Democrats would like to take the country. For instance, there’s more protection for abortion rights in this country than gun rights, and I think all but the most conservative courts would be wary of upsetting that apple cart.
So why don’t small government, libertarian ideas get any real play in the GOP? I think there’s a few reasons for that. One of the biggest is the fact that people with libertarian inclinations are generally horrified by the idea of running for office. Most prefer to make an honest living. I don’t mean that to be a joke about politicians, but I really do think that’s prime reasons a lot of libertarian leaning people don’t want to run. Politicians tend to come from political families, and tend to start in lower political offices before making a run for higher office. How many libertarianism people do you know who’d be interested in running for dog catcher? Or Mayor? Or State Representative? Let’s get more concrete. How many of them are going to be comfortable doing the meat and potatoes of politics? Sticking your hand out and getting people to donate to help elect you? Attending rallies with lots of people cheering your name? Generally speaking, you need a bit of a narcissistic streak, and few libertarian types have that. Even if you found a candidate that did, a lot of others would be turned off by it.
The second reason is, for any movement to be successful, you need people who are fanatical and passionate about it beyond all reason. You need people who are willing to go deep into the game. You also need a lot of people who are more moderate, and less engaged with the issue, but are nonetheless sympathetic, who are willing to go along with the fanatics. Gun owners have that. The religious right has that. Libertarians do not. Libertarians spend quite a lot of time arguing over what is and what isn’t a libertarian, and defining people out of the movement if they are insufficiently ideologically sound. Theya re not about building coalitions of mostly likeminded people. This is a big reason that libertarian ideology tops out in the single digits of voters. The vast majority of voters, even ones with libertarian ideological sympathies, are not going to have a philosophically coherent set of beliefs, and you have to carry those people if you want to be a player in coalition politics, and at least see some of your ideas adopted.
Neither party are monolithic entities. There aren’t smoked filled rooms where candidates are picked anymore. Candidates are voted on by the members of the party (in closed primary and caucus states) and by the people at large (in open primary states). They are made up of coalitions of interests, and the candidates who come out of the process are a result of struggles between the coalitions. Mitt Romney is currently the front runner, in my opinion, because he’s a good fundraiser and doesn’t generally scare anyone that much, even if no one’s really excited about him. The best libertarians have been able to push to the top is Ron Paul, who’s gotten to the top, not because he’s a good candidate, but because he’s the only libertarian that’s ever been elected to federal office. He’s not going to win because he can’t bring moderate libertarians, or anyone else in the coalition, along for the ride; he’s got one too many kooky, quirky things about him. If libertarians are going to get any play, they are going to have to start fronting candidates who can carry that ideology, and surrender the notion that if the person isn’t ideologically pure, he’s not worth getting behind. I’m not saying that has to be someone like Romney, because Romney is far from ideal, but I’ll get behind Romney if he’s the nominee, because I think he’ll take the country to hell in a handbasket slower than Obama will, and might even help with a few things here and there. But the idea is to slow things down enough to give politics time to change, hopefully in our favor. Will they? Probably not, but I don’t think libertarians will have too many factors to blame other than themselves. With some polls showing libertarian leaning individuals representing about 1/3rd of the voting population, a winning coalition that includes libertarians should be possible.
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