TCS Daily


The Libertarian Alternative?

By Arnold Kling - December 4, 2003 12:00 AM

"Suppose that, like many Americans, you believe in reproductive choice as well as school choice. In an ideal world, you could vote for a presidential candidate and political party that reflects both positions. In today's political system, however, any American holding these two views must confront the uncomfortable dilemma of choosing one at the expense of the other."
-- Ted Halstead and Michael Lind, The Radical Center

 

Halstead and Lind have identified the problem for those of us who lean libertarian. Unlike pure libertarians, who disdainfully refrain from voting for any conventional candidate, we Leaners make lesser-of-evils choices from among the major parties. But the choice is still hard.

 

I used to evaluate candidates for President by their taste in economists, on the theory that getting free markets right is at least half the battle. In 1992, Bill Clinton was taking advice from one of my favorite economists, Alan Blinder. So I voted for Clinton.

 

Meanwhile, my wife evaluated the 1992 race on the basis of the candidates' taste in women. On the one hand, she saw Barbara Bush. On the other, she saw Hillary Clinton and Gennifer Flowers. My wife voted for Bush.

 

In the event, Blinder was appointed to the Council of Economic Advisers and then to the Fed, where he was named vice-Chairman. But he was less prominent than Hillary, even on the Clinton Administration's largest economic initiative, which was its health care proposal. In retrospect, I think you would have to say that, once again, my wife's instinct was sharper.

 

A Bad Month for Libertarians

 

For those of us who lean libertarian, November was a lousy month:

 

  • Howard Dean came out in favor of re-regulation of "utilities, large media companies and any business that offers stock options." As Megan McArdle put it, "those of us with libertarian tendencies had better keep looking for a politician who is really interested in making markets work."

 

  • We saw the Bush Administration railroad through a prescription drug bill that appears to take the country a little closer to socialized medicine, over the objection of Democratic opponents who wanted it to go further.

 

  • Only a flimsy filibuster stood between the Bush Administration and passage of energy legislation, brought to you in part by Archer-Daniels-Midland, the company that produces the gasoline additive ethanol -- energy made from pork. The bill was described by Jerry Taylor and Peter Van Doren as "Hundreds of pages of corporate welfare."

 

  • Uncomfortable with Chinese bras, the boobs in the Bush Administration decided to put on import restrictions, leading Bruce Bartlett to reluctantly conclude that "From the point of view of trade, it is the worst administration since Herbert Hoover helped bring on the Great Depression by signing the Smoot-Hawley tariff in 1930."

 

  • The Democrats on the House Appropriations Committee pointed out that public financing of political campaigns has gotten out of control. They noted that in recent health-labor-education legislation alone there were nearly $1 billion in "earmarks," which means pet projects of legislators that serve purely political purposes.

 

  • When the Massachusetts gay marriage decision came down, Republicans seized this as an "opportunity" to re-assert a strong role for government in regulating social behavior.

 

A Bright Spot

 

Amidst all this gloomy news, one of the few bright spots was Democratic Presidential candidate Joe Lieberman. Taking on Howard Dean, Lieberman said, "That now makes three major areas of economic policy where he seems intent on turning back the clock. He would increase the tax burden on the middle class, raise trade barriers, and now invite new micromanagement of business."

 

Columnist Walter Shapiro noted that "aside from the brave and lonely free-trade advocacy of Joe Lieberman, all the White House hopefuls have embraced some form of protectionism." It is particularly brave and lonely in a party where trade unions are both protectionist and powerful.

 

In the past, Lieberman has seemed receptive to the arguments for choice in social behavior as well as for choice in markets. While he made a disappointing turnabout on school choice at the Democratic Convention in 2000, he is no worse than President Bush, who waited until after the election to back away from vouchers and instead push legislation that empowered bureaucrats, not parents.

 

The Draykop Factor

 

There is a yiddish expression to describe someone who talks more than you would like. It is said that the person tries too hard to turn (Dray) your head (Kop), and so the term is draykop. Lieberman can be a bit of draykop.

 

One friend of mine remembers vividly the way that Lieberman seemed to overplay his religiosity after he received the Vice-presidential nomination. Trying to sound like he has an "in" with the Almighty. That's the draykop factor.

 

Lieberman is not the perfect candidate for libertarians, by any means. But the best candidate from an Internet/libertarian perspective is never going to be on the ballot. We have to choose from among flawed men and women. Lieberman's positions are more congenial to me than those of any other Presidential hopeful.

 

Thankful for President Bush

 

In this Thanksgiving season, even though he has given us a bad month, I am still pretty thankful that George Bush is the President. His instinct on Islamist terror and his courage in the face of opposition are qualities that I admire. In contrast, as Michael Barone points out, the so-called Democratic wing of the Democratic Party envisions an America "heeding the cautions of France, Germany, and Russia; deferring to the United Nations or NATO; seeking the respect of the protesters in the streets of London or the opinion writers in Le Monde."

 

Barone is describing what I call the UN Party. That may be a charitable view. To an alarming extent, the Dean Democrats represent the Ted Rall party.

 

Given the mood of the Democratic Party, Joe Lieberman is unlikely to win the nomination. He will be lucky to be able to speak at the convention without being booed off the stage. But if he is still in the race when Maryland holds its primary, he will get my vote. And my wife likes him, too.
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