Libertarians and the GOP

Ryan Sager has an interesting piece arguing that libertarians should become more politically active so that they can gain influence within the Republican Party. I agree that apathy among libertarians hinders their ability to advance a limited government agenda, and that if all those who favored limited government on both economic and social issues banded together they could represent enough of a voting bloc to potentially swing close elections. The problem with the piece is that it uses many suspect ways of defining libertarianism and it doesn’t address the biggest barrier to a grand alliance of libertarians, namely, fundamental disagreements over the War on Terror.

Sager acknowledges it is difficult to track libertarian voters, but then offers this:

While George W. Bush gained 10 points between 2000 and 2004 among voters who thought government should “do more,” he stayed essentially even among voters who felt government should not do more or should “do less.”

In other words, despite No Child Left Behind, campaign-finance regulation, steel tariffs, the Medicare prescription-drug bill and exploding government spending generally, libertarians stood by their man. (I should know. I did, too.)

The problem with this analysis is that many (if not most) conservatives would also respond that government should “do less.” It is important to recognize that although the Republican Party has come to stand for big government in recent years, by no means are social conservatives leading the charge for more spending. In fact, the few Republican lawmakers who have actually tried to limit spending are also among the most socially conservative (Sen. Tom Coburn, for example). So looking at exit polling data on that one question doesn’t give us much insight into the voting patterns of libertarians in the past two presidential elections.

Later in the column, Sager points to two studies in an attempt to quantify how big of a voting bloc libertarians could potentially be. A Gallup Poll places them at 20 percent and a study by Pew Research Center for the People and the Press places them at 9 percent. The problem is that both studies only focus on social and economic issues, and ignore national security, which is in my view far more pressing and the source of a major schism among libertarians post-9/11. As somebody who supports spending cuts, low taxes, entitlement reform as well as the legalization of drugs and gay marriage, I can almost guarantee that I would come up as a libertarian in either one of those studies. (Although for some odd reason, in the Pew study, 80 percent of people defined as libertarians support raising the minimum wage). However, when I read popular libertarian Websites, blogs and publications such as Reason, I couldn’t find myself more at odds with libertarians. And I’m sure many if not most libertarians would find my writing just as objectionable.

When it comes to national security, there is severe disagreement among those who otherwise agree when it comes to favoring limited government in the realm of economic and social issues. It’s not worth re-fighting all of the battles of the last four and a half years. But suffice it to say, there is a split between those who believe in aggressively projecting military force in fighting terrorists, and those who find America’s post-9/11 foreign policy overly adventurous. Some of us aren’t spooked by the Patriot Act or the NSA surveillance program, while others find them to be horrific examples of life in a police state. The disagreements go beyond mere policy differences. There is a fundamental disagreement over the magnitude of the terrorist threat and where it ranks for people in the hierarchy of issues. I believe that the fight against radical Islam is not only the defining issue of our time, but a crucial battle in the history of Western Civilization. Many libertarians, I think, would find this view sensationalistic. I get the sense that for many libertarians, the drug war is an equally important if not more important issue than the war on terrorism. While I agree that drugs should be legalized, my concerns about the drug war pale in comparison to my concerns about, say, Iran obtaining a nuclear weapon. I’d be much more willing to form a political alliance with somebody who disagreed with me on the drug issue, or on gay marriage, than somebody who disagreed with me with me on national security issues. Because national security will take centerstage for the forseeable future (at least during presidential elections), it’s really hard to imagine libertarian voters operating as an organized bloc anytime soon.

Is the NSA Monitoring Reporters?

This posting is a very preliminary report by ABC News that federal law enforcement is monitoring the calls of political reporters as part of the ongoing CIA leak investigation. The details are limited at this point and it’s unclear whether, if true, this monitoring is related to the NSA database of domestic phone calls. I will be eager to see where this story leads, but I have to say that this is the type of thing that could tilt the balance for me, and turn me into a critic of the NSA surveillance program. I am willing to support the Bush Administration’s use of wiretapping and tracking phone calls so long as it is narrowly focused on monitoring the communications of terrorists. While one can certainly argue that leaking classified information is a national security risk, it’s much more tangentially related to national security than phone calls among terrorists. It’s one thing to accidentally monitor the phone calls of a terrorist suspect who turns out to be innocent, but it’s another thing to specifically target reporters for surveillance. Again, this report is highly preliminary. But I thought it was worth pointing out that while I have been a defender of the NSA program and continue to be one, this is the type of thing that crosses the line for me.

Anti-Semitism in Britain

Not only is Britain’s largest teacher’s union for colleges and universities considering a boycott of Israeli lecturers who don’t dissociate themselves with the policies of Israel’s government, but also:

concerning Hamas’s victory in Palestinian elections, enjoins British academics “to continue to help protect and support Palestinian colleges and universities in the face of the continual attacks by Israel’s government” and to “contact the Palestinian Authority government to reaffirm that support.”

It’s bad enough for a group of academics to cutoff a free and open exchange of ideas because of their hatred for Israel, but then to want to cooperate with the Hamas-led terrorist government, which is dedicated to the destruction of Israel, is an absolutely disgraceful double standard. I’m not one of those people that automatically equates criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism, but it’s difficult to explain this in any other way.

Food and Immigration

Over at the Corner, John Podhoretz and John Derbyshire are debating whether or not immigration is good for the country (a taste here and here).

Reading through the exchange reminded me of a part of the immigration debate that has been sorely neglected: the impact of immigration on food. If not for immigrants, we wouldn’t have pizza, hot dogs, Chinese food, to name just a few staples of the American diet. Were it not for post-Colonial immigration, I guess we’d be stuck eating British foods. Ugh!

As the great immigration debate of 2006 continues, I hope everybody will consider the impact that any legislation will have on America’s culinary options.

NSA Database

The debate over the NSA’s methods of monitoring terrorist activity has taken another turn with the revelation by USA Today that the agency has been collecting a database of the phone calls of tens of millions of Americans. There is plenty to debate about the legality and constitutionality of the program. The idea of a government agency maintaining a secret database of our phone calls is understandably spooky to many people. And certainly, there is a valid concern that even if the program isn’t being abused now, it sets a troubling precedent that could lead to abuses down the road.

With that said, I am still not alarmed by the mere existence of the database. It makes sense that if the NSA is trying to isolate those with ties to terrorists, they would want to have as large a database as possible to sniff out irregular activity. If the government were using the data for other investigations unrelated to the terrorist threat, I’d start to be concerned. If it turned out that Bush was authorizing such measures for his own financial gain, or to spy on his political opponents, I’d be angry, and would be joining those calling for his impeachment. But thus far, there is no evidence that the database was used for any such nefarious purposes.

My position comes not from any naiveté or love for the federal government, but from an understanding of the nature of the terrorist threat and the unenviable position it puts law enforcement agents in. In this one area, I’m willing to cut law enforcement more slack. Some people become outraged by the mere potential that such intelligence-gathering methods can be abused. But I will save my outrage for if actual abuses occur.

NY Times: Poor People Did Better Under Reagan Than Clinton

Yes, it’s true. In an editorial yesterday, the paper of record wrote:

If the “near poor” feel insecure, they have good reason to. A group of academics found that during the 1980’s, 13 percent of Americans in their 40’s spent a year or more below the poverty line. In the 1990’s, that percentage nearly tripled, reaching 36 percent.

Okay if the NY Times wants to say that poorer Americans were better off under Reagan, but I don’t understand how their declining fortunes during the Clinton years has anything to do with the main point of the editorial–that the Bush economy has been bad for the “near poor.”

Fiscal 9/11

There is a debate over at Cato Unbound on the question: The GOP and Limited Government: Do They Have a Future Together?

When it comes to this issue, I’m a bit of a fatalist. I don’t think that there’s any hope for the Republican Party to become a true limited government party until the system collapses under the weight of government spending, especially Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. In other words, nothing will be done until there is a fiscal disaster that wakes people up to the fact that big government is unsustainable just as Sept. 11 woke people up to the threat of terrorism. Following Sept. 11, neoconservatives gained credibility because their philosophy of transforming the Middle East suddenly became relevant as the U.S. decided how to respond to the terrorist threat. In much the same way, once the impending fiscal disaster becomes reality, libertarian proposals for privatizing Social Security, deregulating health care, etc., will suddenly become relevant.

One unfortunate quirk in human nature is that we tend to be focused on the short term. Polls show that in an abstract sense, most Americans are concerned about the $9 trillion federal debt and the looming entitlement crisis, but people are just not willing to sacrifice their favorite government program to resolve the problem. It’s sort of like a person who eats too much and slowly gets heavier and heavier until he is morbidly obese. Even though he knows that he should cut back on food to improve his health, future health risks are completely abstract whereas bacon double cheeseburgers, french fries and apple pies a la mode provide instant gratification. However, were that person to suffer a heart attack, he would be much more likely to adjust his eating habits. He’s still focused on the short term, but now his health is a short-term problem rather than an abstract long term one. That’s why Americans won’t be willing to cut back on big government until financial disaster strikes and the unsustainable spending levels affect them in the short term.

This doesn’t mean that those of us who believe in limited government should abandon our fight. It’s just that we have to be aware that we’re literally up against human nature.

Hamas Nobel Peace Prize Watch

Sad, but true. The U.S. has already caved:

UNITED NATIONS, May 9 – Yielding to pressure from its allies, the Bush administration endorsed a European proposal on Tuesday to increase aid to the Palestinian territories, including money that could pay the salaries of some civil servants working under Hamas.

Not only has the U.S. officially capitulated to terrorists, but it did so without receiving any concessions:

Hamas signalled on Wednesday it still had problems accepting Western demands to recognise Israel and renounce violence, hours after international peace brokers agreed to channel direct aid to the Palestinians.

Boy, the international community taught them a lesson!