05 December 2006

Are libertarians the next big Democratic constituency?

Sebastian Mallaby reports that some Cato Institute wonk is suggesting that a libertarian-Democrat fusion might make sense in the future. The wonk, a man named Brink Lindsey, believes that there is a fundamental tension between libertarianism (small government, personal autonomy) and Christian Conservatism (Government promoting religious values). It's true that their alliance is slightly anomalous - southern conservatives have disliked the federal government for the past half century at least in part because liberals in DC forced them to adhere to different values.

George W. Bush was the perfect Republican presidential candidate in 2000 because he could bridge the divide between the small government people and the Christians, and he got both to vote for him. There are obvious fissures in the party, and the 2008 primary is going to lay them bare.

That said, I think that Lindsey (and Mallaby) are still going out on a limb with their next suggestion. Mallaby claims that libertarians should realistically stop trying to dismantle government and should just try to keep it from growing any more. And Democrats should be happy with what they have and just stop trying to grow the government. Once they do that, they'll be a happy supermajority, so the argument goes, because both oppose the Christian right on social issues.

The problem is that neither side wants that. Libertarians don't want to keep sending 40% of their income to the government, and most Democrats (the ones who believe in something besides getting elected) would like to strengthen the social safety net, especially in the realm of health care. I don't see these two sides being especially comfortable with each other.

One final note: My sneaking suspicion is that libertarianism is going to increase dramatically in scope over the next decade or so. I think that a large number of people under 40 are going to transform their famous apathy into general distrust of government. I don't see this as a good thing at all, but I think if these people believe in the government they would care more about who runs it. So this is not, in my opinion, an inconsequential debate at all. It could be that libertarians form a swing bloc that pushes both parties to support their policies.

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