Pander, Dammit!

We might end up on more fertile ground if the discussion shifts from “Should libertarians vote for Democrats” to whether they will vote for Democrats in the midterms (2008 is way too far off in the distance to prognosticate about).

I think Kos’ dismissive attitude toward actual libertarian ideas — “All those libertarians seeking some pandering, too bad,” he writes. “This isn’t about you. It’s about us [the Democrats]”– makes it clear that there’s very little ideological common ground between libertarians and Democrats (I also believe there is very little in common between libertarians and Republicans, too, though that intellectual disjuncture was obscured rhetorically by conservatives). I don’t expect anything like systematic, principled stands from politicians and political parties. However, if a party is going to get my vote, they’d damn well better pander — or at least marginally reflect my sense of priorities. If the Dems at the national level would do anything to step in the libertarian direction, that’d be a real start: They might start talking up free trade, which was long a Democratic position; was Bill Clinton really the last free trade Democrat (Hillary Clinton voted against CAFTA, for god’s sakes, no doubt fearing that the mighty zombie workforce of the Dominican Republic poses a terrifying threat to the U.S. economy; in this, she was sadly joined by way too many Dems and Reps)?

Or they might actually embrace the social tolerance they are supposed to embody (and for which conservatives slag them anyway): Why won’t prominent Democrats actually stand up for, say, gay marriage? Not civil unions or some other second-rate alternative, but actual gay marriage? Or come out against the drug war? Or speak unequivocally in favor of free speech — no hemming and hawing about evil video games and all that crap? Even assuming they say nothing different on economic matters, Dems could at least move toward a cultural libertarianism that would make them more attractive to the small government crowd. I suspect they don’t do these things because they don’t really believe in them.

Whatever. I do think that many libertarians — and libertarian-leaning Republicans — will make anti-GOP protest votes this November. One longtime Republican friend of mine — no names! — is pulling a straight-ticket for the Dems to punish the GOP for failing to even come close to doing anything remotely in the small-government vein. I have no idea how many other folks will be like my friend, but there are certainly more of those folks than they’re used to be.

Also from this issue

Lead Essay

  • Kicking off this month’s discussion, “Should Libertarians Vote Democrat?”, Markos “Kos” Moulitsas, proprietor of, argues that the libertarian Democrat’s time has come. Moulitsas says that GOP dominance has been a disaster for limited government and civil liberties, and that growing corporate power poses a grave threat to individual liberty and necessitates government action. “[W]e’ve seen that [the Republican Party] is now committed to subverting individual freedoms,” writes Moulitsas, “while the [Democratic Party] is growing increasingly comfortable with moving in a new direction, one in which restrained government, fiscal responsibility and–most important of all–individual freedoms are paramount.”

Response Essays

  • In his reply to Moulitsas, Bruce Reed, president of the Democratic Leadership Council, does not try to claim the libertarian mantle: “[I]f you’re looking for government to close up shop, don’t vote Democratic,” Reed recommends. But, Reed argues, there are reasons for more moderate libertarians to support Democrats. “Which party can provide smaller, more efficient government?” Reed asks. “Which party takes the responsibilities of government and limited government seriously enough to actually deliver it? Which party believes in competition enough to wean the country from its dangerous addiction to corporate welfare and make free enterprise work?” Reed’s answer: The Democratic Party.

  • Washington Post columnist and The American Prospect editor-at-large Harold Meyerson argues that Democratic overlap with libertarianism in matters of civil liberties cannot extend to the economic domain. “The central insight of 20th century liberalism,” Meyerson writes, “was that freedoms conflict, that a company’s freedom to dominate the marketplace was often in conflict with a consumer’s freedom to find a product at a fair price, or a workers’ freedom to find a decent job or form a union, or a citizen’s freedom to have an equal voice in the legislative process.” Today, Meyerson argues an increase in economic insecurity demands an increased role for the state. “Ultimately, the Democrats aren’t going to proceed very far down the libertarian road, for one simple reason that’s far more pragmatic than philosophic: It doesn’t lead anywhere.”

  • Nick Gillespie, editor-in-chief of Reason, likes the idea of libertarian Democrats, and notes that there are a few, but “when it comes to their own party, they feel sort of like Trotsky during his Mexico City days.” Commenting on the previous essays, Gillespie writes that “even as Moulitsas is ostensibly trying to woo libertarians to vote for Democrats, he spends a good chunk of his essay lecturing his audience like a Hyde Park autodidact about the need for publicly financed roads and education, and railing against that great abstraction of ‘unaccountable corporations’ that lead us into war, make us breathe dirty air, and steal our retirement savings.” Gillespie finds Reed “even less engaging,” while Meyerson’s “uncomplicated nostalgia for the New Deal suggests he thinks he’s living in 1936 rather than 2006.”