Don’t Wait for Inspiration, Do Something!

Nick writes, “What we’ve seen since the Republicans took control of Washington is appalling. What we’ve seen from the Democrats in this Cato Unbound debate (and on the campaign trail so far) is uninspiring. That suggests to me that libertarian voters will remain an underutilized resource in American politics.”

Isn’t that the story of modern-day politics? Isn’t that the dilemma most voters face, having to choose between the lesser of two evils? Everyone is looking to be inspired. More often than not, we have to abandon that wish and choose the candidate that least offends, or the person we think will cause the least amount of damage.

Nick wants the perfect candidate and wants to be inspired? He can get in line. We’re all looking for the same thing.

Yet while my backyard (California) offers little to inspire, this Libertarian Democrat is truly inspired and excited with the new crop of Western libertarian-tinged Democrats. Whether they remain a regional oddity (like the southern Democrat), or whether their brand of liberty-inspired liberalism spreads remains to be seen. There will be many like me who will fight for their increased influence within the Democratic Party caucus. And yes, there will always be conflict between this wing of the Democratic Party and its other wings. It’s a big-tent party, as any two-party system necessarily is. But our brand of libertarianism is ascendant in our party, while the Republican brand of libertarianism has been squashed to a bloody pulp. And to add insult to injury, Republicans continue to pretend they’re something that they’re not (in favor of small government and liberty), assuming that their naked pandering will continue to earn the votes of libertarians they’d rather take for granted.

You aren’t inspired? Identify new leaders to take up your cause. Fight for them. Promote them. Help them win elections. That’s what I’m doing, and it’s certainly something someone like Nick — with a magazine at his disposal — can do. It’s easy to complain that no one inspires. I did that for decades before I decided to build my little soapbox of a blog to advocate for the kind of Democrats I wanted to see elected. And shockingly, I found an eager and motivated audience that sought out the same.

Ultimately, compromises have to be made. There are plenty of Democrats in the caucus that are the polar opposite of what a Libertarian Democrat is all about, that will happily vote for gay marriage bans and violations of our personal and civil liberties. But just as anti-abortion Democrats see their position marginalized in an overwhelmingly pro-choice party, so can authoritarian Democrats be marginalized in a party that grows into a potent force for protecting our personal liberties.

And if this Democratic Party is still too much in favor of a safety net, or too opposed to corporate intrusions into our personal liberties for the tastes of traditional libertarians, then so be it. They can look across the aisle and determine whether the authoritarian and war-obsessed Republicans are any better.

Don’t sit back and expect to be pandered to. Action and results will always trump empty rhetoric.

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.”