Libertarian Dissonance: Who?s Right, the Daily Kos or the Wall Street Journal, and Does It Matter?

This week, “Kos” (Markos Moulitsas), uber-blogger of the left-blogosphere, argued in a Cato Institute’s monthly electronic journal that the Democratic party is the natural home for voters who believe in individual liberty…

It was my fealty to the notion of personal liberty that made me a Republican when I came of age in the 1980s. It is my continued fealty to personal liberty that makes me a Democrat today.
The case against the libertarian Republican is so easy to make that I almost feel compelled to stipulate it and move on.
Of course, Kos is wrong. Consider some of the America’s biggest domestic challenges, and the potential solutions that maximize personal liberty…
  1. Improving the Quality of Education: Public School choice, charters, and vouchers
  2. Retirement Security: Inidividual retirement accounts
  3. Healthcare: Health-Savings Accounts, Decoupling health insurance from the workplace
  4. Political Participation: Repeal campaign finance limits on free speech.
Is there any doubt which party supports the liberty-maximizing solutions, and which opposes them?
As many commenters to the original article have noted, the centerpiece of Kos’ “libertarianism” is increased government regulation of private business, which is not libertarian at all, with some paeans to issues like flag-burning added on. (Combining attitudes on flag burning with campaign finance reform is as enlightening an illustration of mainstream Democratic thinking on individual liberty as there is: the government should leave individuals free to engage in symbolic, isolated acts, but as soon as individuals want to take actions that might influence the larger society, then it’s regulate-to-the-max!)
However, Kos’ attempt to redefine a political phiosophy as its opposite is not the point. He freely admits he is an activist, not an intellectual. The more interesting point is that as an activist, if he thinks libertarians are worth courting, he must believe there’s substantial voting bloc of them out there.
However, a Wall Street Journal editorial that appeared the day after Kos’ article hinted (unintentionally) at the opposite. The Journal suggests that the Republican leaders don’t believe that there are enough voters in the electorate who believe in individual freedom to make liberty-maximizing solutions to domestic problems political winners…
Social Security reform was never going to be easy, and Mr. Bush’s war-driven decline in job approval meant he couldn’t move any Democrats. But that still doesn’t excuse such prominent Republicans as Tom Davis (Virginia) and Roy Blunt (Missouri) for resisting their President’s reform effort behind the scenes. So frightened were they that they never even brought the subject up for a vote.
Perhaps the most puzzling abdication was the GOP failure to do anything at all on health care. The window for saving private health care from government encroachment is closing, and both business and workers are feeling the pinch from rising costs. Yet Republicans failed to make health-care savings accounts more attractive, failed to let business associations offer their own health plans, and failed even to bring to a vote Arizona Congressman John Shadegg’s bill to avoid costly state mandates by letting health insurance be marketed across state boundaries.
Add to the Journal’s despair the fact that President Bush allowed the No-Child-Left-Behind act to be turned from a potentially-meaningful school choice plan ito an increased layer of centralized regulation and that he signed of campaign finance reform act of 2002, and it’s hard to make the case that the Republicans have done their part in advancing an agenda of individual liberty.
Accepting that the WSJ and the KOS are reliable windows into their respective sides? political thought, it seems that an agenda of individual liberty doesn’t have a home in either political party right now. America has one party (the Democrats) so committed to an agenda of centralizing government power, it has talked itself into believing that government regulation is freedom! We have the other side (the Republicans) that doesn’t believe that many Americans really support individual liberty, and has resigned itself to the inevitable adoption of a collectivist agenda. How will liberty prevail in this environment?

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17 years ago

The juxtaposition to the story above is interesting: one party wants to tap your phone without a warrant, and you ask which is the party of individual liberty.
This is the same party that wants to tell you what you can or cannot do in the bedroom.
You say that “they only want to tap the phones of terrorists.” Right. And the Easter Bunny and Santa Claus (no relation) are coming for dinner tomorrow.
The real point is that Libertarianism is internally inconsistent. Take Andrew Sullivan: he’s against taxes, yet he was all gung-ho on the war in Iraq. Can’t have it both ways, there, can we? Which is it: no taxes, or no military?
I suspect your target audience would agree with Andrew on both of these points.
And a real Libertarian would support both gay marriage (how can the gov’t tell me whom not to marry?) and legalization of marijuana, and possibly higher-level drugs (what I do in my spare time is my business).
I wait with baited breath for posts supporting both gay marriage and legalization of drugs here on the pages of Anchorrising.

17 years ago

“And a real Libertarian would support both gay marriage (how can the gov’t tell me whom not to marry?) and legalization of marijuana, and possibly higher-level drugs (what I do in my spare time is my business).”
Amen, Klaus! I’m an actual real libertarian and I support both.

17 years ago

Klaus, no one (at least not in govenment) wants to tap your phone without a warrant. Unless you are making or receiving calls from Al Qaida.
The NSA has no interest in what you have to say to your wife, your mom, your psychiatrist, or your bookie for that matter. I know from personal experience that they are just too busy for that.
I am a big fan of spying, when it helps us stay free and defeat our enemies. Intercepting your fantasy football trades is not in the national security game plan, despite what the blame-america crowd may have convinced you.
Let me ask you: What do you gain if the government is unable to listen in on telephone convesations between terrorists abroad and their accomplices in the U.S. ?

17 years ago

So many comments, so little time. I ought to get a commission for sparking interest here. First, I never mentioned abortion. I had things like sodomy laws in mind when I was talking about the gov’t in the bedroom. Second, I’m seriously disappointed that no one addressed the issue of taxes and the military. Wars, even splendid little wars like the one Mr Bush thought he starte, cost LOTS of money. Where’s it going to come from? The War Fairy? And “all interacts tightly regulated by the gov’t”? I must have slept through that one. Didn’t realize that liberals were proposing such a thing. Maybe because they’re not, except in the minds of…well, the same people who were so convinced that Hillary was going to run in 2004. I have no idea where that came from, or to what it refers. The fact that liberals want to teach REAL science in school? How awful. Third, I thought that conservatives were the hard-headed ones, and liberals were all squishy in trusting others. Power tends to corrupt–ever hear that one? You really are trusting souls if you think the gov’t will restrain itself to wiretapping terrorists. How do you know someone’s a terrorist before the fact? Answer, you don’t. So, go ahead, trust your gov’t with absolute faith. As for Kos, I never go there. He’s too doctrinaire for me. Besides, I don’t find liberals dangerous in the same way that I find conservatives to be. Liberal policies tend towards anarchy, while conservatives are more of a threat to individual liberties. As in warrantless wiretapping, broad definition of enemy combatant, the equation of dissent with disloyalty….etc. As for gay marriage, sorry guys. Don’t buy your ‘arguments.’ It’s the moral issue you object to, which is the sort of regulation of values that… Read more »

17 years ago

PS. If you want to read about who is threatening individual liberty, go over to and read the story about the guy who got arrested because he told Cheney that he didn’t agree with the admin’s policies.
Freedom of speech? Only the approved sort.

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