Jon Henke over at The Next Right scoffs now at Markos Moulitsas’s prediction – a few years back – of “an emerging brand of ‘libertarian Democrats.'” Henke makes two mistakes in his scoff: first, he equates the tea bagging movement with libertarianism; and second, he is extrapolating from the immediate post-election dynamics to more general party dynamics in the future.
In the first, he is certainly right that the Tea Bagging movement has adopted libertarian themes and rhetoric – and there are certainly libertarians among this group. But there are also many right-wingers of other sorts. And if the Tea Baggers truly were outraged by government spending, they had eight years to get excited before Obama took office. The Tea Bagging movement is an odd combination of right-wingers angry with Obama using libertarian rhetoric and libertarians who are fed up with everyone in American politics except Ron Paul. But I’d be pretty certain that the majority of people at these rallies decrying socialism and government interference also join in the right-wing’s attempts to demonize Obama for his modest steps in reining in the national security state. Henke – in equating the Tea Bagging movement and libertarianism does libertarians a rather severe disservice.
Second, it was inevitable that the libertarians that were part of the anti-Bush coalition would not fit so well into the pro-Obama coalition, despite their support for Obama over McCain in 2008. It was always clear that Obama would not move fast enough on national security matters – and would not even attempt to go far enough for libertarians – and that Obama’s domestic agenda, especially health care, goes against libertarian principles. That said, there are significant areas of agreement between libertarians, progressives, and liberals – and these are considerably stronger than those between right-wingers, Republicans and libertarians. On economic matters, the Republican Party has done very little to embrace free market reforms – instead, embracing a form of crony capitalism; on national security issues, the party has embraced every accoutrement of a police state; on spending, Republicans have been far more fiscally irresponsible; on social issues, the Republican Party has abandoned libertarian principles and embraced a christianist platform. The Democratic Party – on the other hand – is for reigning in the police state (though not enough); and on social issues, it often sides with libertarians; on economics and spending, this gets more complicated. Obama’s positions do seem at first glance to be exactly what libertarianism stands against – but if I’m right about what Obama is doing – that he is adapting the Democratic Party and liberalism to a market-state in which the state seeks to provide the maximum opportunity to its citizens rather than providing for them (as socialist, Communist, and post-New Deal American capitalist states did), then the Democratic Party’s economic platform will be less of a threat to libertarian values and the party will be more or less aligned with the libertarians on every issue.
These first years of Obama’s presidency were always going to strain the libertarian-Democratic alliance. But it seems the long term trends favor this alliance.
[Image by Brian Buchanan licensed under Creative Commons.]