Friday, July 25, 2008

Update: Libertarians and Liberals

I guess one easy response to my previous post and to my concerns about Libertarians is that (according to a poll) more of them like Obama than like McCain, and that is interesting. But I don't think it's as easy as that.

I think making someone sympathetic to, or into, a Libertarian gets them closer to being a conservative. Remember, this has just been quantified for you: probably close to 100% of Democrats are voting for Obama, but 38% of Libertarians, according to a Rasmussen poll, prefer McCain. I think that advertising the fact that Libertarians support Obama as if the amount of support is noteworthy, or means that they almost all do (like titling a blog post "Libertarian Support for Barack Obama") tends to make liberals become more interested in Libertarianism. Besides the results of that poll, from what I have heard about Libertarians and from what I have heard Libertarians who hold themselves out as voices for their movement say, Libertarianism doesn't sound to me like it's just about decriminalizing a few vices. It sounds like there is a lot of distaste among these Libertarians for core-- core-- liberal policies. It really seems as if this movement can peel off liberals who like a few of our issues-- but who in the end kind of don't like black people, and really just want to hold onto more of their fortunes, instead of paying it over to help people and to help the country we live in.

And just because Libertarians say they support decriminalization of recreational use of marijuana does not mean that by building bridges with Libertarians, marijuana is going to be decriminalized. Whether decriminalization happens or not is something that is in the future. But what is a lot more certain is that Libertarians are a lot closer to being conservatives than liberals are, and making friends with them or having them around is therefore a conservative influence.

More fundamentally, the Libertarian movement is wrong on issues that affect blacks and the lower classes-- issues like taxes, health care and public assistance-- because the kinds of positions Libertarians have on those issues are the kinds that produce more crime in our country, and make the lives of millions of Americans measurably worse and harder to live in a healthy way (thereby making those millions of Americans less likely to be productive people who are great to have around in our country). But also, if the Libertarian way of looking at things begins to catch on, it tends to break our liberal coalition. Liberals should not be seen to be looking at blacks and the lower classes and saying "Screw you-- we've written you off now. You should have been working harder all along, and the fact that I got a much nicer upbringing than you did in a much nicer neighborhood has nothing to do with it," tends to break our coalition, which makes all our goals harder to accomplish. If the mainstream liberal position wasn't right on these issues, the matter of political expedience would carry a lot less force, but since we are right of those issues, consideration of political expedience adds a decisive weight against allowing these so-called Libertarians too much of a foothold in our movement and thought. This isn't to say that among the public policies that Libertarians talk about as if they were expendable there can't be specific aspects that are worth criticizing or changing. I'm just saying that advocating dispensing with those entire policies wholesale, according to an Ayn Rand type of tradition, is definitely out.

UPDATE II: Foreseeing that some people may take issue with my pointing out that Libertarians are often in some ways like conservatives, and are often a lot conservative than liberals (if you use support for McCain or Obama as the measure of who is conservative and who is liberal), I just want to point out that while some Libertarians may think of themselves as liberals, and the term "Libertarian" used in a broad, technical sense can include liberal-anarchists or anarchist-communists, I think that conservative Libertarians have basically taken over the Libertarian movement in America that is centered around the Libertarian Party, and that tries to get politicians elected to public office in America. I think that these people are a lot different than your average liberal-anarchist who used to go out on the street to protest globalization because of the impact it can have on poor people's quality of living in Third World countries. I think if the liberal-anarchist type people had some very frank conversations with the conservative-type Libertarians, they would find that the "Libertarian" movement is something they have very little in common with, and that to identify themselves in terms of how they fit in the contemporary American political spectrum, they are a lot better off just calling themselves anarchists and not lumping themselves in with these other, 38%-pro-McCain Libertarians. Doing otherwise just gets people confused.

UPDATE III: If you really want to know why there are so many Obama-supporters among these right-leaning Libertarians, maybe it's this: maybe whether they support Obama isn't such a good gauge of their ideology, and maybe a lot of otherwise-right-leaning Libertarians are favoring him because they disagree with the Republicans' Iraq policy, feel that the Iraq war is a very grave mistake for the nation, and feel like Obama is more likely to change the policy than McCain. In that case, they would prefer Obama to win the White House to chasten the Republicans until the Republicans become a little more public-spirited. Otherwise, those people may be just as right-wing as any Charlton Heston / Clint Eastwood Libertarian.