The Lonely Libertarian: A View From a Disaffected Republican


When I began this blog nearly one year ago, I anticipated that I would write about politics nearly as much as I do now on sports. I’ve always been an avid follower of the political game and log onto the New York Times and Washington Post websites every morning. What I quickly found out, however, is that every time I started a blog post on politics, I ended up gritting my teeth with with such disdain for today’s political climate to the point where I would almost never finish my thoughts. This is because I feel that neither of the major political parties seem to want someone like me.

Let me start out by explaining my political background. I’ve considered myself to be a Republican since long before the time that I could even cast a vote. However, I’ve always had major disagreements with large portions of the Republican Party platform because my political philosphy is purely libertarian, which is generally considered to be a position of being a fiscal and free market conservative and a social liberal. One might say that would make me a “moderate”, although I generally eschew that term since I admit that my views on fiscal and economic issues are generally in line with Ayn Rand while I could probably be mistaken for Barbara Streisand on the social side. I do believe, however, that politicians as whole need to be more pragmatic and centrist when it comes down to the practical matters of governance and legislation as opposed to being wedded to their respective ideologies. The reason why the Republicans always won out with me despite this internal conflict was that I weighed the fiscal and economic issues greater than the social issues. That’s because I felt and still feel that economic principles are based on pure logic and a government that ignores those principles will have an immediate negative effect on the financial health of the country as a whole. In contrast, I have always believed that social issues are usually hot-button topics that would inflame a lot of emotions in people but have little practical effect on me personally.

Over the past several years, however, the Republicans have increasingly focused on “wedge” social issues to drive voter turnout from evangelicals and like-minded religious conservatives while generally ignoring the libertarian wing of the party. Today, Republicans are now garnered with the reputation of being obsessed with overturning Roe v. Wade, opposing gay marriage, meddling in the family medical decisions regarding people on life-support that have been in comas for years, proposing that building a huge fence on the U.S.-Mexican border is appropriate “immigration reform” even though this economy would largely grind to a halt without such immigrants, and cutting off funds for embryonic stem cell research that could yield cures for degenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. At the same time, while the Republicans still largely adhere to the principles of lower taxes and open markets, they have completely abandoned the concept of a smaller government by expanding the size of the federal bureaucracy to levels that would make even FDR blush. All of this was done in the belief that the libertarian wing of the party and similar-thinking independents would hold the line because of the liberal orthodoxy of the Democratics. Frankly, this attitude completely turned me off.

I wish that I could tell you that the Democratic Party went after my type with gusto, but that didn’t happen. Even though the Democrats were able to secure both the U.S. House and Senate by attracting large waves of independent voters that were upset at our situation in Iraq, they have mostly reverted back to the populist rhetoric of the old line liberals as opposed to the centrist policies of Bill Clinton. The sealer for me was when Ned Lamont ended up beating Joe Lieberman in the primary for Connecticut’s Senate seat, where Lieberman was representative of the type of Democrat that I would have gladly voted for in this type of environment. (It turned out that the liberals that foamed at the mouth to oust Lieberman were a bit out of touch with the general electorate as he won his seat back by running as an independent.) At this point in time, the Democratic base is more bent on being a liberal counterweight to the Bush administration as opposed to moving to the center. This is even though Clinton, an avowed centrist, has been the only Democrat to win two terms as President since Franklin D. Roosevelt. The general decision of the Democratic Party leadership to move away from such success since Clinton left office continues to astound me and has prevented me from considering to move over to their side even with my nearly complete dissatisfaction with the Republicans.

What’s amazing is that public opinion polls continuously show that the majority of the people in this country tilt slightly to the right on economic issues and slightly to the left on social issues, which would seem to be a great incentive for one of the parties to seize a libertarian platform. Yet, since libertarians are not easily mobilized or found in large groupings the way social conservatives are in evangelical churches or populists are in labor unions, neither party has spent any time courting my type in an organized manner. Meanwhile, in the rush to separate the country’s population into two simple-minded silos of being either left-wing protesters of the war in Iraq or right-wing Bible thumpers, I did not see a single story in the national media over the past two years about how the libertarian viewpoint, which is largely the independent voter’s viewpoint, has been ignored by the major political parties until this past week in The Economist, which happens to be a British newsmagazine. (On a separate note, The Economist is far superior to the U.S. newsweeklies in nearly every facet of reporting and analysis even on American stories. I highly recommend it if you want serious and in-depth news coverage.) Thus, the very voters that turn almost every election have somehow flown completely under the radar by the powers that be in politics and the media.

An argument that I hear a lot is that I should start supporting a third party candidate (in my case, the actual Libertarian Party), yet I take the view of Eric Zorn, who noted that you need to vote with your head instead of your heart. I don’t believe in the effectiveness of a “protest vote” and, as Zorn pointed out, the notion that a large number of third party votes will “send a message” to the two major political parties has always turned out to be false, such as the utter disregard for Ross Perot’s views by both Republicans and Democrats even though he ran the most successful third party presidential campaign of modern times in 1992. (“Can I finish? Can I finish? Can I fin-ish?”) As a practical matter, I doubt that the Republicans that voted for Perot in 1992 that led to 8 years of Bill Clinton or the Florida Democrats that voted for Ralph Nader in 2000 that led to 8 years of George W. Bush think a “protest vote” is all that good of an idea today. At the same time, I’ve always put the thought of strong third parties in the United States in the “be careful for what you wish for” category. Instead of being centrist parties, third parties are almost always on the fringes of the far right or left sides of the political spectrum. Having fascist and socialist representatives in government, which is not at all uncommon in “progressive” Europe, doesn’t exactly encourage more cooperation in society.

In the end, I still voted for more Republican candidates than not this past Tuesday, although the bitterness of my political philosophy being ignored by both parties is going to continue to linger. Much of the country, however, ended up disagreeing with me by giving all of Congress back to the Democrats and I honestly can’t blame them. If you controlled the White House, Senate, and House of Representatives at the same time and weren’t able to pass any reforms of the Social Security system and immigration policy that were promised in 2004, there was a clear failure of leadership. Obviously, the war in Iraq loomed and continues to loom over everything, but the fact that the Republicans failed on making advances on those domestic issues meant that the quagmire in Iraq couldn’t even be countered with positive achievements elsewhere in the campaign.

The Democrats were the beneficiaries of a “kick the bums out” election this year, but if they want their victory to be more than a 2-year blip, they will still need to follow the gameplan that I wrote for them this past January. In my opinion, they aren’t even close to meeting those standards. The last time that the Republicans were bogged down by an unpopular war and corruption at the highest levels, they were swept out by Democrats in 1976. However, that turned out to be only a short-term diversion as Ronald Reagan rose to power in 1980 and set a conservative national agenda that is still largely in place today. That won’t be changed by the Democrats if their “policy” on the war in Iraq over the next 2 years is to subpoena current and former Bush Administration officials on what they were thinking in March 2003 as opposed to finding a forward-looking solution that allows the U.S. to withdraw its troops in a reasonable timeframe without compromising our broader goals for peace and stability in that country.

On the Republican side, I hope that they finally realize that they cannot build a “permanent majority”, as Bush and Karl Rove have sought to create, on social conservatives and the electoral votes of the South alone. The party can learn a lot from Arnold Schwarzenegger (I always found it ironic that the two most prominent politicians to ever come out of the liberal cauldron of Hollywood are the Terminator and the Gipper), who was elected to another term as Governor of California in a landslide despite it being the bluest state in the nation. (On a related point, after witnessing a Democratic governor get re-elected without barely a fight even though there are Federal investigations galore surrounding him and the Green Party receive 10% of the votes, there is no doubt that my home state of Illinois has voting patterns that are more in line with coastal states such as New York and California than the other states in the Midwest. The Illinois Republican Party needs to be constantly reminded of this whenever it feels the inevitable rumblings from its base to turn back sharply to the right on social issues.) The Republicans definitenly have potential 2008 Presidential candidates that fit the profile of attracting broad support from both sides of the aisle in John McCain and Rudy Giuliani, but the question is whether they can come out of the party’s primary without having to grant the promises to evangelicals that Bush was willing to dole out. A possible positive development of the Republicans suffering huge losses this year, from my standpoint, is that those 2008 primary voters will have to look toward a candidate’s electability in the general election as a prominent factor as opposed to ideological purity, so the likelihood of a more moderate temperant from the party the next time around might be greater.

The upshot of all of this is that I still call myself a Republican, albeit an extremely disaffected one whose decision is currrently based on choosing the lesser of two evils. There are individual Democrats that I admire and support such as Barack Obama and Rahm Emanuel (who was the true architect of the Democrats’ takeover of the House as opposed to Howard Dean), yet that party’s leadership and platform overall still has done little to attract people like myself. In the end, I hope that the Republicans can get past the toxic lure of voter turnout from social conservatives with reactionary wedge issues and get back to what a broad majority of Americans really supported the party for over the past four decades, namely a smaller federal government, lower taxes, and strong national defense. That is the only way that the Republicans can win back my heart instead of just my head.

(UPDATE: The Onion summed the election up best here.)