The Liber-al-tarian Hope

I don’t think the headline finding of this Pew poll is terribly interesting.  But buried deep within it is something that I thought was somehow both surprising to me and yet a complete validation of one of my hobby horses.  Specifically this:

More than four-in-ten independents (44%) react positively to the word “libertarian,” while 32% have a negative reaction. Democrats are nearly evenly divided (39% positive, 37% negative). However, Republicans on balance have a negative impression of this term (44% negative, 31% positive).

If libertarianism has a future with either of the two main political coalitions in this country, it is with the Left, not the Right.

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20 thoughts on “The Liber-al-tarian Hope

  1. I am also quite surprised by that, although I’m right there with you on that hobby-horse. But I’m also suspicious of opinion pols of this kind – are you sure they’re not just reacting negatively to an unfamilar term? Or to a term that sounds vaguely like “liberal”?

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  2. I am shocked that “State’s Rights” scored as high as it did.

    It scored higher than “progressive” and “capitalism”.

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    • @Jaybird,
      You’re right, I’m really surprised State’s rights scored that high, too. I personally prefer the term “Federalism”.

      I wouldn’t take too much from the capitalism thing – Capitalism is a somewhat ambiguous, and very loaded loaded term.

      Polls consistently show that support for a “Free Market”, “Market Economy”, and similar terms score far more positively than capitalism does. I prefer them too, simply because they’re much more precise terms.

      Of course, my favorite term is the one Adam Smith used: “System of Natural Liberty”

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      • @Jivatman, I wasn’t necessarily surprised that “capitalism” scored as low as it did. We’re in a recession, after all. I’ve no doubt that this same poll would have had Capitalism 20 points higher in 1998.

        I’m just amazed that State’s Rights (which, I’ll be honest, still makes me hear a dog whistle) wasn’t beneath both of those.

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  3. I’mjust spit-balling here but my guess is that if you nuanced this and separated libertarian attitudes towards authority/government from their attitudes towards personal freedoms you would see a big difference in the results. I think most liberals like the personal freedom stance of libertarians but they aren’t quite so ga-ga over the limited government stuff.

    I wish I could predict how those things would shake out on the Right but it’s much harder. Conservatives generally like personal freedoms if that means guns and the government leaving us with most of our paycheck but they’re terrified of things like the legalization of drugs and abortion on demand. We like limited government so long as we still have an enormous military and the police maintain law and order.

    So….I think you’re right Mark that the best hope for libertarians is on the Left but I think you’ll still end up disappointed. They’ll never support the limited government rhetoric and even on personal freedoms they have their limits.

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  4. Bill Clinton remains an extremely popular president – personally, I wish he never left office – who I think could fairly be described as a liberal-tarian due to his pretty strong support for free markets, free trade, and to his support for his reform of traditional welfare, and instead, support for market-friendly social programs like EITC (which was, surprisingly enough, designed by Milton Friedman).

    Obama, though, is not Bill Clinton, I have yet to see any evidence that he really believes in the market or market-based solutions. There is also very strong evidence that he is a social democrat, or perhaps democratic socialist, from past statements he’s maed about things such as his support for “positive rights”.

    The thing is, I just don’t see any Bill Clintons democrats anymore. It seems like there are any notable Democrats who even remotely support market-based reforms of existing social programs, or simple things to improve competition, like selling insurance policies across state lines, health savings accounts, ect.

    If they don’t watch out, libertarian-esque Republicans will grab the center. Fact is that the only even remotely libertarian politicians I see are Republicans, largely of the Ron Paul faction, of which there are actually a large number running for congress – but also some people like Dick Armey, and the strongly anti-war John Hostedder.

    Democrats just don’t seem interested in using economics, or the magic of the free market to make their policies better. What democrat on earth would cite Milton Friedman nowadays? The only people I see supporting vouchers and other ideas are on the right. Most of the democrats I know think he is a devil trying to enslave the world with capitalism, and that Globalization – which is currently lifting millions out of grinding poverty in India and China – is solely exploitative.

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    • @Jivatman, I disagree Jivatman. The Dems have become massively more pro-market over the past 30 years. They just don’t go on and on about it like Republicans do. Now a large part of this is probably simply that the Communist wing of the party lost the battle of history. Communism is not an alternative to capitalism and the Dems have largely accepted that fact. Clinton and the DLC dragged the party into the center on economics in the 90’s and while the rhetoric has roamed about the party has substantively remained planted where Clinton put it during his term. There has been very little attempt by party leadership to significantly increase business regulation (even HCR was pretty much a clone of the 1990’s Republican HCR offering), they’ve made no hard push for an attack on free trade (despite how much their labor wing would love them to). They’ve even acquired a true anti-market party to the left of them to provide a home to all the statist true believers.

      Now as for what Obama believes, it’s hard to say. He moves so cautiously and slowly that his vector is hard to make out. It’s entirely possible that he is more of a social democrat. We’ll see what he does in the run up to and aftermath of the next election.

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  5. I’m actually not surprised by the low Libertarian score among Republicans. Their opinion of Libertarians only lasts as long as the most recent election. In 2004, I’ve no doubt that they loved Libertarians.

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      • @Koz, they, much like Social Conservatives, were seen as willing dupes. There was no reason to dislike them and, as such, were likable.

        Until, of course, they started strategically voting for Democrats (along with other “Independents”) in 2006 and, in 2008, they voted for Not McCain and Not Palin instead of, like last time, Not Kerry.

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        • @Jaybird,

          Jay, this is why we need a voting system that will alllow us to literally cast a negative vote against any candidate, such as “Not Bush” or “Not Obama”, rather than forcing everyone who doesn’t want to waste their vote to cast a “false positive” vote for one of only two parties.

          Allowing a “negative vote” OR a traditional positive vote, breaks the feedback loop that forces all FPTP systems to over time, devolve into exactly two parties and turns them into multiparty systems.

          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Political_party#Balanced_multiple-party_systems

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          • A couple more thoughts on this,

            1. How awesome would it be for the winning politician’s vote total to be -50,000,000? I for one, am tired of politicians talking about an “overwhelming mandate”…

            2. This will reduce negative advertising in an election with more than two parties, because a negative vote for one of your opponents does not necessarily benefit you, and its existing tendency to backfire is amplified, as you also, could be negvoted. Swiftboating suddenly does’nt seem like such a good idea…

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            • @Jivatman,

              There is a man named Dan Carlin who hosts two podcasts I listen to, Common Sense and Hardcore History.

              For years he has been after a “none of the above” option. Where if your district selects none of the above no-one is seated. A very interesting idea.

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