Libertarianism in the Republican Party



Libertarianism has generated a huge buzz among many young conservatives. If you went to the Republican caucus in 2012, you could pretty much bet that any person there between 18 and 28 was voting for Ron Paul.

From the perspective of building the Party, being able to energize so many young people really is attractive, especially when looking at Obama’s focus on college campuses. But Libertarianism has a major limitation when put face to face with liberalism – a limitation that has the potential to severely hurt the Republican brand in the future.

To put it simply, Libertarian views are either virtually indistinguishable from the Democrats, or are so focused on the ideology of “keep the government out” that more government power actually results.

There are three major issue groups that conservatives have traditionally used in conjunction with each other to motivate different portions of the Republican base: Strong national defense, strong moral values, and embracing free market views.

Starting with a strong national defense, Libertarians aren’t completely opposed to what is typically considered the conservative view. They do insist (as Barack Obama does) that they want to keep a strong military. There can be a debate about what exactly a strong military means, but at least we can rest assured that the military will keep some level of strength if a Libertarian were elected president because it is a legitimate federal expense under the Constitution.

Where I have concern with Libertarians on defense issues is their complete agreement with the Democrats on the issue of America being the “World Police.” While many Libertarians believe that we should not be the world’s policeman, I’d advise that those people look at the success of America serving in that role.

The period from World War II to today marks the longest time in world history (since at least the dark ages) without a significant war. Have there been wars? Yes. But none of them have involved two major powers fighting. Let us remember that there has never been a war between two democracies, that democracies rarely start wars and that the expansion of free countries in the past 70 or so years has directly coincided with the increase of peace that we have seen.

Don’t misunderstand me, sending money to our enemies isn’t good policy, but sending foreign aid to allies to help them strengthen their own democracies is a fantastic (and proven) method to keep us out of war. Objectively speaking, being the “world police” isn’t cheap, but compared to the cost of war including the financial costs and the toll on human life easily exceeds the cost of building a strong alliance and being of assistance to our allies.

Moral issues also represent an issue where Libertarians agree more with the Democrats than Republicans, although interestingly enough it seems as though their intentions seemed aligned with conservative views.

To illustrate the problem with applying straight Libertarian ideology to moral issues, abortion comes to mind. Libertarians are quite divided on the issue and it makes sense because on one hand “The government shouldn’t tell a woman what to do with her body” but on the other hand “We are guaranteed life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” Two different arguments made by Libertarians that can lead to two different viewpoints.

Gay marriage is much the same. Last year, Minnesota voters rejected a constitutional amendment defining marriage between one man and one woman. I can understand the dilemma many Libertarians faced who themselves view marriage as a union of one man and one woman but who don’t believe it should be a part of law. That view makes sense from a Libertarian perspective, but there is a portion in the libertarian movement that doesn’t just oppose writing a traditional definition of marriage into law but also supports the actual legalization of gay marriage and putting that into law.

The idea that Libertarians support gay marriage really doesn’t make a whole lot of sense because giving government the power to change the definition of marriage to any arbitrary line is a great expansion of government power. The debate now is gay marriage, but once the threshold has been lifted there is no reason that marriage couldn’t apply to pretty much any possible combination of people. I would expect Libertarians to understand this. The Libertarian view on marriage that makes the most sense with their philosophy is to eliminate any marriage definition and eliminate any and all tax credits/benefits, etc. This viewpoint, however appealing, has significant policy concerns best left to another day to discuss.

We all know that free-market economics makes sense for building our economy. However, in order to have a free market that functions well, we as a country need to make sure that our fundamentals are good. Those fundamentals include having a secure country, and strong social institutions.

We can’t expect to grow our economy while at war, and having a mother and a father raise a child is the best poverty reduction method that has yet to be discovered. It is shocking how much living with your biological mother and father improves a child’s outlook.

If we stop working with our allies to secure our world, it is easy to imagine that the world would revert to its state before our country existed – one far more war-torn.

So while the Libertarians do have strong economic policy and strong policies on government spending and debt, their comparatively liberal stances on defense and moral issues have the potential to undermine necessary underpinnings to a successful free-market country.

A common justification among Libertarians is that we need to “adjust to the times” on our views on defense and moral issues. They argue that in order to win elections, we need to become more liberal in order to win votes.

These ideas could not be more false. Conservatives do need to continue outreach to minorities, but changing our positions on moral issues won’t help us. African Americans and Hispanics voted overwhelmingly for Obama despite their strong support of traditional marriage. Conservatives need to emphasize the importance that values play in our society because that will help us to reach minority voters. An African-American voter will be far more likely to vote Republican if they think “Well, I like the Democrats on economics but I agree with Republicans on moral issues.” When we don’t emphasize our current views on these issues, that same voter thinks “Well, I like the Democrats on economics but I agree with the Republicans on…..”

The second issue I have with moving to the center is that 2012 was a great test to see if Republicans can win on economic issues and we didn’t. That’s not too say the campaign could not have been better executed but it is an indication that by emphasizing the three main traditional issue points that we can really gain a lot of votes than being indistinguishable (according to the average voter) on 2 issue groups from the Democrats and taking a minority position that varies from the Democrats on 1 of the issue groups.

All of this isn’t to say that the Libertarian movement is bad, but the traditional three issues that conservatives use to win elections still can win and truly are all necessary in conjunction with each other for a peaceful and prosperous country.