Amidst all the debate that my “Libertarian Democrat” piece spawned, there’s one particular misconception that I feel needs to be dealt with upfront — the notion that this is all a ploy to convince libertarians to vote Democratic. That, of course, was fueled by the title of the Cato Unbound package, “Should Libertarians Vote Democrat?” It was a title that I hadn’t seen until my piece was up and posted.
If I had written an essay on why libertarians should vote Democratic, it would’ve been a short essay: divided government, ‘nuff said.
My piece wasn’t a play for the libertarian vote. Rather, it was a formulation for a new breed of Democrat that is finding success in the Mountain West and other parts of the country and an attempt to figure out why I — a former Republican — find the Democratic Party a comfortable place despite the fact that on an issue-by-issue analysis, I haven’t changed much politically since I was 18.
The fact is, there is a new breed of libertarian-flavored Democrats that is emerging on the scene. They are no more traditionally libertarian than I am. We don’t advocate the elimination of safety-net programs or the abolition of publicly funded education or any of the more extreme manifestations of libertarianism. We don’t think that “corporations derive their power from government,” hence less regulation will magically make corporations respect my individual liberties (a notion I find patently ridiculous). We are Democrats, after all. Yet we Democrats are also struggling to find a coherent philosophy in a world where globalization has made many of its core precepts increasingly archaic.
So this is my contribution to what is really, ultimately, an internal debate inside the Democratic Party as it seeks solid mooring in a rapidly changing world. I don’t claim to have all the answers, but there’s no doubt I find great kinship with Democrats like Montana’s John Tester, Ohio’s Paul Hackett, and Virginia’s Jim Webb. And if such Dems win and encourage others like them to successfully seek and win public office, then we’ll see an inevitable transformation in what the Democratic Party is and what it stands for.
This is really about the future of the party, rather than what it has traditionally been.
So all those libertarians seeking some pandering, too bad. This isn’t about you. It’s about us. Now libertarians have a choice — continue to be taken for granted and pandered to inside a Republican Party hostile to just about everything important to libertarians, or help fuel the libertarian left. Of course, they can vote big “L” Libertarian or sit elections out. But if they want to have a real effect on the political process, the two major parties are pretty much it. And, fact is, one party is moving closer to traditional libertarian principles while the other is moving away from them.
In the short term, libertarians should vote Democratic simply because divided government is in everyone’s interests. A good dose of gridlock will slow Bush’s insatiable appetite for ever-growing, deficit-devouring big government. Mid-term, a Democratic trifecta (White House and Congress) would help reverse many of Bush’s worst excesses. But 10 to 15 years down the road, libertarians will hopefully have better reasons to move into the “D” column.
And if that happens, it won’t be because they were pandered to and wooed, and not because Democrats have become doctrinaire traditional libertarians, but because Democrats will be clearly (in word and in deed) the party of individual liberty. Until then, I and many like me will be fighting that battle inside our own party.