Ross’ question about the future of “fusionism”—the longstanding alliance between libertarians and social conservatives—is a very profound one. Let me suggest a couple of thoughts that may help us think it through together.
- While strict doctrinal libertarians have always been a vanishingly small minority in America (cocaine vending machines anyone?), the libertarian disposition or tendency is large and strong.
- So long as the Democrats (or anyway the Democrats’ northern leadership) remained effectively a social-democratic party, libertarian-leaning voters had no choice but to support the GOP.
- After 1994, Bill Clinton shifted the Dems sharply toward the right on economic issues. The result—as we saw in the 1998-2004 sequence of elections—was that the Dems shed a lot of working-class white votes, while picking up a lot of affluent votes. (Bush beat Kerry among white women without a high school degree; Gore beat Bush among self-described “upper class” voters.)
- Probably the most important decision therefore for the future of the Republican party belongs not to the GOP, but to the Democrats: Do the Dems continue on the path Clinton laid down—or do they revert to a more radical politics?
- As of 2005, the Democrats have compromised. They practice a politics that is radical and militant in tone, but anodyne in substance. They hate George W. Bush, and the war in Iraq, and the religious right—but it’s rare to hear them say implement the Kyoto accord or raise taxes to pay for universal government-run healthcare. I’m not saying they don’t think it, but they don’t say it.
- But the Democrats are quiet mainly because they have sunk deep into the mentality of an opposition party. If they retake one or both houses of Congress—as they gear up for 2008—then they will have to decide: Are they still Clinton’s party? If yes, then I think the Republican coalition will continue to splinter. If no, then for all the troubles described here, the GOP can be held together by the principle of lesser-evilism.