In some sense this is a post-mortem — for conservatism, libertarianism, neoliberalism, neoconservatism, paleoconservatism, paleolibertarianism, “liberaltarianism,” and moderates (even among Democrats), since they’d all better drop their differences and push back against government spending or the post morten will be for the U.S., not any particular political faction. Playtime, alas, is over.
But allow me one last metaphorical explanation of why I don’t think liberaltarians are right to pick their political allies by looking at the poor track record of office-holding Republicans and then either flipping a mental coin or attempting to tease out untapped goodness in Democratic philosophy from their occasional, almost accidental policy superiority to Republicans.
If the goal is to have photos of a beautiful woman upon my wall (and we assume said photos upon my wall to be analogous to a limited-government regime upon my society), and there are two very bad photographers (analogous to the two parties) whose work is so shoddy that even if one of them is ostensibly aiming to capture images of Ernest Borgnine (analogous here to socialism) and the other images of Cindy Crawford (the real goal), you still can’t tell from the photos which model is the better-looking subject, then this may well be reason to give up on both photographers, but it is certainly cannot be reason to declare Ernest Borgnine a more beautiful woman than Cindy Crawford.
Likewise, the two parties may be so similar in practical effects that one should stop focusing on the perpetual struggle between them — but it does not make sense to say that the tiny subset of pro-Borgnine (or rather, pro-bigger-government) ideologues within one party have somehow become preferable to the tiny subset of pro-Crawford (or rather, anti-government) ideologues within the other. The hope has always been that at some point the ideologues within the GOP would take over, displacing mere self-serving political hacks. That may well have been a doomed, naive hope. But this does not somehow make the Democrats’ ideologues our friends.
I think looking at the muddled results of the GOP vs. Dem battles and attempting to draw ideological conclusions of that sort is a bit like saying “Neither Brand X medicine nor a sugar pill appeared to make any discernible difference in treating my wounds — and indeed, the results, if any, were so vague and slight that the sugar pill might even have come out ‘ahead’ by mere chance, therefore I’m abandoning all mainstream Western medicine and declaring sugar pills more conducive to health.”
And if you know you’re dealing with muddled, crappy results, don’t just declare “the other side” superior because of your dissatisfaction with the first option considered.
In the end, it seems to me that almost all formulations of the “liberaltarian” argument relied on some variation upon the argument “The GOP is as screwed up as the Dems, so…” Weak stuff for forming deeper philosophical allegiances — and I hope it’s clear I’m not implying by any of this that the GOP does a good job, any more than I’d say one or the other photographer is competent if both produce unidentifiable smudges.
And speaking of ambiguous photography, tomorrow I should address Sideshow Mel’s relationship to Thomas Pynchon.
P.S. Here’s an excerpt from a Wall Street Journal piece (which was linked by Drudge) co-written by pollster Rasmussen — and polls, like the public itself, are fickle — but it would be twisted and obscenely wrong for an ostensible libertarian to look at these numbers and, rather than saying “We can turn this into a pivotal teaching moment by fighting hard against the President and his spending plans,” say “We should teach the public that Obama is part of the rich historical tapestry of liberalism that guarantees their liberty”:
Recent Gallup data echo these concerns. That polling shows that there are deep-seated, underlying economic concerns. Eighty-three percent say they are worried that the steps Mr. Obama is taking to fix the economy may not work and the economy will get worse. Eighty-two percent say they are worried about the amount of money being added to the deficit. Seventy-eight percent are worried about inflation growing, and 69% say they are worried about the increasing role of the government in the U.S. economy.