Before Obama gets elected on Tuesday (proceeding with his plans to bankrupt the coal industry, increase government spending, and all the rest), I want to acknowledge, one last time before everything ends, that, yes, I had my hopes, as did plenty of free-marketeers, that conservatives would come to their senses over the past couple decades and shrink government, and my hopes may have been misplaced.
But lest Obama-leaning libertarians — usually ones younger and more fond of pot than I — talk about that phase in the history of political alliances as if it was just as ridiculous as a left-libertarian alliance, I will remind them that there really are plenty of free-marketeers on the right. They don’t generally hold office, unfortunately, but you know damn well (a) that they fill the thinktanks and magazines, (b) that the slender but highly valuable tradition of “fusionism” (traditionalism plus markets) was real, and (c) that the hope — this is key — was that fusionism would continue to grow and would take over the movement or at least nudge it far enough along to produce some practical policy outcomes.
The goal was not merely to reformulate libertarianism in conservative language or make it look, when you squint, as though there were some mere metaphorical similarity between the two movements, the way one might decide to declare “spirituality” a “form of commerce” and then describe the Bible in an extended trade-metaphor, possibly as a means of selling Biblical concepts to Wall Streeters.
The goal, a real and very practical one, was to steer the GOP toward tax cuts, budget cuts, and deregulation. And at times it looked like it might work. And if you’re a left-leaning libertarian, I am willing to bet you did not having anything remotely resembling a better plan and you still don’t. If the GOP gambit failed, that is no more reason to think there must be hope (somewhere that I can’t discern) on the left or in the Democratic Party than to think that since the last group of Vikings raped you, the next band of them must surely be nice guys.
I now make the pragmatic assessment, given the rapidly-growing number of media and political memes of all kinds in our ever more complex society, that simply trying to get the libertarian message out there in the most clear, unencumbered (yet moderate) form possible is the best hope of making more people someday adopt its policy recommendations. If — precisely as the left-leaning libertarians are always saying — libertarianism suffered for its appearance of carrying water for the right, surely it would be insane to attempt, as our next strategy, to appear to carry water for the left, composed almost entirely as it is of de facto socialists, taxers, and regulators. If one’s craven, shameful goal is to “fit in” on that end of the spectrum, one might as well say, “I have decided my new strategy will be hiding for several decades, and so I am going to pretend to be, oh, say, a Presbyterian or a tree.”
If libertarians vote for Democrats, all that happens is that the Democrats’ openly, proudly, avowedly market-restraining agenda wins, and we lose, and there is no amount of philosophizing that can turn it into some kind of mirror-mirror infiltrational victory. You might as well spend the rest of your life distributing Klan literature while claiming that since in your secret innermost thoughts you hate the Klan, you have achieved a clever political coup. No, you have simply become a Klansman.
If libertarians vote for Obama, we will know what it apparently takes to get libertarian votes (and Democrats will be greatly relieved): rail against unregulated markets, denounce greed, promote higher taxes on the wealthy, and vow to socialize medicine. Way to go, “free-market” voters, way to go. In that case, libertarianism-as-useful-movement, R.I.P. I have always tried to be a pragmatist and coalitional thinker, but I can live with being a movement of one, too — a solo Remnant, if you will — so go do the Democrat-flattering thing without me. I’ll sit out the next thirty years if I have to before aiding in that self-destructive cause.
You think the GOP strategy went badly? Obamatarians, we’ll see how much your new friends shrink government. This ought to be amusing (and heartbreaking). Voting Obama to punish the GOP for being insufficiently libertarian makes absolutely no sense whatsoever, and I don’t care how many Andrew Sullivans, etc., think otherwise. They have lost their ideological little minds.
You should punish failure — but not by rewarding another failure (after fourteen years of Republicans, is everything done wrong by the Democrats over the preceding eighty years forgiven??). Furthermore, you send a message (if that’s your goal) by voting for what you actually want, not by voting for something that’s simply an arbitrarily-different alternative to that thing that you decided you didn’t want.
Do you wish the Alien movies were warmer and more pleasant? Well, you could express that wish in several ways (really, I’m quite flexible and open-minded about tactics), but if warm and pleasant is your goal, you don’t properly “punish” the Alien movies by renting Saw. It’s that simple, people.
Likewise, oversimplifying only slightly, I’ve voted GOP in half the presidential elections of my adult life in part to tell the Dems they should be more capitalistic, anti-tax, anti-regulatory, etc. When the GOP is not a useful vehicle for that message, as is often the case, I send a (clearer) message to the GOP itself by voting Libertarian (as I have in the other half of presidential elections). When you vote a certain way, you inevitably tell the losers (whether you intend to or not): “Be more like this group I voted for.” Voting for Obama tells the GOP “Become even more like the Democratic Party than you are already,” not “Be more libertarian, that’s the key to votes.”
If you are of a libertarian or government-shrinking bent, you cannot in good conscience vote for Obama and (augh!) Biden, not unless we are using radically different definitions of the word “libertarian” — take another look at their agenda, if you will.
You can stay home and not vote. You can vote for Barr. But you can’t vote for Obama and Biden. Doesn’t square, no way no how.