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Out of the Hot Tub, Into the Frying Pan

By Ryan Sager

There was also a lot of blog response to the hot-tub libertarians column. I'll try to take the lines of argument one at a time.

One line of argument is that the libertarians should abandon the GOP because it's too close to the Evangelical, "fundamentalist" wing of the Right. One blogger making this case is the Cranky Insomniac:

Maybe I'm overly pessimistic, or maybe a significant slice of the "GOP forever" libertarians will suddenly decide that they don't have enough in common with other party elements to keep voting with them (as I did ten years ago, when I realized that "this party sucks," and split). But until this political Cialis takes effect, libertarians as a group will have about as much political clout as people who give Porter Goss as a reference.

We might as well keep kickin' it in the hot tub.

This is, of course, an extremely common view among libertarians: We don't have enough clout within the GOP, so let's not invest any energy in the GOP. The problem, though, is that this logic is circular. The GOP ignores libertarians because they're unengaged in politics, and they're unengaged in politics because the GOP ignores them. Libertarians can blame this on their numbers, but even the conservative estimate from Pew that they make up 9 percent of the American ideological spectrum robs them of such excuses. Libertarians are politically impotent because they're petulant and factious (and I say this as a libertarian), not because there aren't enough of them.

Another line of argument is that libertarians should be pouring all of their energy into third-party politics, i.e. the Libertarian Party. That's the argument over at Hammer of Truth (where I'm accused of being a "conservative"):

Other than playing lip service to the Second Amendment, when has the GOP been sensitive to individual rights? Is big-government conservatism the economic equivalent of the compassionate conservatism practiced by the GOP on homosexuals?

There is but one natural home for libertarians: the Libertarian Party. However, it's understandable that many libertarians avoid the LP because of frequently embarrassing election results.

...

[Sager is] half right. It is time to reclaim our libertarian roots, but the GOP is clearly not the answer. The time is now to form effective third-party and independent coalitions to get liberty-minded people elected to public office.

Of course, the GOP has never been a libertarian paradise. But, as I go into in great detail in my forthcoming book, there has long been a "fusionist" bargain where limited-government conservatives and social conservatives understood that they needed each other and that they both ultimately wanted a smaller state. The biggest change in the GOP coalition has been the decision by a large segment of social conservatives (goaded by neoconservatives like David Brooks) to start looking at the federal government as a friend and not an enemy. Libertarian efforts should be spent on persuading social conservatives back to our side and organizing within the GOP as opposed to outside it.

The last argument I'll deal with here is from Reason editor Nick Gillespie, who argues that the hot tub of real life is simply preferable to the cesspool of government and politics. It's a tempting idea and one that a lot of libertarians consciously or unconsciously buy into. And as an individual choice, it's fine. God knows not everyone finds immigration speeches and bridges to nowhere fascinating. But the business of governing is real life, and the outcomes of political fights will determine how much of our money is stolen in taxes, whether gay people can get married, whether cancer patients will risk arrest for using marijuana, whether people will be able to afford health care, etc. etc. etc.

Simply saying this stuff doesn't matter (or doesn't matter that much) doesn't make it so.

Libertarians need to get serious. And getting serious means organizing. And organizing means within one of the two major parties. I believe that can only be done within the GOP, that there is still a natural logic to fusionism.

But I'm happy to hear arguments otherwise.

Ryan Sager (rhsager.com) is author of “The Elephant in the Room: Evangelicals, Libertarians, and the Battle to Control the Republican Party.”

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