Libertarians and Conservatives

There has been a little brouhaha started between a couple of the Volokh contributors and Stephen Bainbridge, a battle between the social conservative Bainbridge and the more libertarian-minded David Bernstein and Randy Barnett. It began with Bernstein posting a quote from an article for which he was interviewed. The quote:

That idea [that the Federal Government should embrace "traditional values"] is anathema to those who take the Constitution seriously. It's not simply a question of separation of church and state, said Bernstein, but "a separation of everything and state." The conservative idea of limited government has been all but abandoned by Bush, Bernstein said.

This prompted Bainbridge to respond with a post titled Those Annoying Libertarians, in which he points to those exit polls that showed morality was the most important issue to 22% of voters, as opposed to 20% and 19% who named the economy and terrorism:

Meanwhile, back here on Planet Earth, when voters were asked on Tuesday what issue matter most, more answered "moral values" than any other issue. And those folks broke for Bush by 79%. Of course, I guess those of us who fall into that camp don't "take the Constitution seriously." Sheesh. It's bad enough that we get insulted by jerks like Eric Alterman (did you see his incredibly insulting column today?), now we have to put up with it from putative allies like Bernstein.

Such an illogical answer from a respected law professor. What on earth does the number of people who named morality as important have to do with what Bernstein said? If 22% of the population says it's important for the government to enforce morals legislation, does that suddenly mean that morals legislation becomes more constitutional as a result? Of course not. Does it mean that they "take the constitution seriously"? Nope. In fact, it only feeds Bernstein's argument that Bush, and a sizable portion of those who voted for him, don't care much about the concept of limited government. Bainbridge's response brought Randy Barnett into it, at least a bit. He's not so much concerned about whether Bainbridge is right as he is with preserving a coalition:

It ill-behooves one constituent of a winning coalition to gratuitously insult another member. Disagree with, even passionately, yes. Belittle and ridicule, no. Doing so is a recipe from reducing a winning coalition into a losing one. All coalitions are subjected to this internal tension. Successful ones find ways to resist it by stressing what all coalition members have in common, as compared with their political opponents.

My advice goes to libertarians (a misquotation of one of whom provoked Professor Bainbridge) who want to be a part of this coalition, as well as conservatives, social or otherwise.

Emphasis by Barnett, not by me. I confess to being a little disappointed at Barnett's response, but I also understand that he is very busy and doesn't have time for a protracted exchange. But I wish he had shredded Bainbridge's silly exercise in feces-throwing thoroughly. Personally, I don't care about being part of a coalition with social conservatives, not by a long shot. They represent everything I fight against. But then I tend toward the left wing of libertarianism, not toward the right wing. At any rate, Bernstein's original point is an important one and it shouldn't get lost.

The notion that the Republican party stands for limited government as opposed to "tax and spend liberals" is a complete fiction and it needs to be done away with. President Reagan talked eloquently about the need for smaller government, but he submitted larger budgets than those tax and spend liberals in Congress sent back to him, and he pushed a ramping up of government intrusion into our private lives in a wide range of areas. Smaller government? You must be joking. Likewise Bush, who has overseen the fastest growth in government in American history but seeks only to pass the cost of that growth on to our children. After all, our children don't give campaign donations and expect tax cuts and corporate welfare in return the way his big contributors do. He passed a new $500 billion entitlement program and did not veto a single bill in his first term, not to mention his abysmal record on civil liberties.

The Republican party abandoned the notion of smaller government a long time ago (and the Democrats never had that notion to begin with, except in their opposition to morals legislation), so they are now the party of larger government across the board, both more expensive and more intrusive in our private lives and all financed on the backs of the next generation who will be paying the service on the debt we continue to run up. And as a libertarian-minded voter, I'm supposed to be concerned about preserving a coalition with these people? No thanks.


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Good entry. Through the process of repetitive rhetoric, even the most absurdly false ideas can, and will, become "truth."

Of course, Reagan had the cold war to fall back on to for his spending habits. Bush II has the war on terror. So the republican party's militarism plays hand in hand with its statism. And they can deny both through the insistance of the "necessity of the times."

When reason doesn't matter to the common man, how do you combat that?

By Matthew Phillips (not verified) on 06 Nov 2004 #permalink