Quantcast

«

»

Jul 29 2013

Can Libertarian Populism Save the GOP?

As the party bosses, ideological leaders and pundits try to find something, anything to help the Republican party overcome its electoral difficulties, many of the smarter folks on the right have suggested something they are calling “libertarian populism.” Russ Douthat spells out his vision:

To the extent that there’s a Big Idea for where the G.O.P. should go from here that has any real traction within the party (as opposed to among right-of-center pundits) and that doesn’t just reflect the self-interest of the G.O.P.’s big donors, it’s probably what Ben Domenech has termed “populist libertarianism” — a strain of thought that moves from the standard grassroots conservative view of Washington as an inherently corrupt realm of special interests and self-dealing elites to a broader skepticism of “bigness” in all its forms (corporate as well as governmental), that regards the Bush era as an object lesson in everything that can go wrong (at home and abroad) when conservatives set aside this skepticism, and that sees the cause of limited government as a means not only to safeguarding liberty, but to unwinding webs of privilege and rent-seeking and enabling true equality of opportunity as well.

That actually sounds good to me, but I suspect it only works well in theory.

This is a Tea Party idea from 2010, in a sense, but it’s been given more heft by figures like Senator Paul and by potential 2016 contenders like Bobby Jindal, and its imprint is visible across a range of policy debates: The return of right-wing civil libertarianism and the re-emergence of an anti-interventionist spirit on the right, the sympathy among some grassroots conservatives for proposals like the Brown-Vitter banking overhaul, the (pre-existing but expanding) conservative interest in prison and sentencing reform, the Congressional G.O.P.’s willingness (and eagerness, in some quarters) to accept defense spending cuts, the federalist turn on issues like gay marriage and marijuana. From the design of the sequester to the emerging design of Dave Camp’s tax reform, Republicans are plainly more willing to take on right-leaning interest groups (defense contractors, Wall Street) than they were a few years ago.

But will it last? I doubt it. The Republicans always bring back right-wing civil libertarianism when a Democrat is in office, just as they suddenly discover the need for fiscal responsibility then. But the moment a Republican take the White House, those stances magically disappear. Sure, there are a few consistent voices out there; Ron Paul was one of them. But he was virtually alone. The American Freedom Agenda Act he proposed for years to put the executive branch back in its constitutional box only got one co-signer, Dennis Kucinich. And it was ignored completely.

The other problem is that this ignores the really ugly side of right-wing libertarian populism, embodied by the very people, like Rand Paul, that Douthat praises as new leaders for the GOP. Will Wilkinson nails it:

I see two problems. First, right-wing populism in America has always amounted to white identity politics, which is why the only notable libertarian-leaning politicians to generate real excitement among conservative voters have risen to prominence through alliances with racist and nativist movements. Ron Paul’s racist newsletters were not incidental to his later success, and it comes as little surprise that a man styling himself a “Southern Avenger” numbers among Rand Paul’s top aides. This is what actually-existing right-wing libertarian populism looks like, and that’s what it needs to look like if it is to remain popular, or right-wing. Second, political parties are coalitions of interests, and the Republican Party is the party of the rich, as well as the ideological champion of big business. A principled anti-corporatist, pro-working-class agenda stands as much chance in the GOP as a principled anti-public-sector-union stance in the Democratic Party. It simply makes no sense.

There’s a reason we see Republicans resort again and again to a fusion of racially-tinged American-nationalist Christian identity politics, empty libertarian rhetoric (an integral part of traditional white American identity), and the policy interests of high-tax-bracket voters. That’s what works! Well-meaning, libertarian-leaning, small-government conservatives must find this awfully frustrating. I find it frustrating. Yet it seems to me a plain fact that there is no significant electoral faction in American politics that demands the joint reduction of government and corporate power.

Right wing populism has always been a dangerous thing, from the John Birch Society to Glenn Beck. I suspect it always will be.

29 comments

Skip to comment form

  1. 1
    jamessweet

    Exactly, there are two problems here:

    1) To the extent that libertarian populism might “save” the GOP, it might only do so in the sense that it makes the party more successful electorally. It won’t save its soul, because libertarian populism is an idealistic-yet-broken idea. It just doesn’t really work. *IF* it takes off on the right, it might help the Republican party, but it won’t help America.

    2) The party is just too wedded to social issues, the only way to transcend that is going to be a painful fracturing, a la Dixiecrats. They can’t just make the party faithful stop caring about hating the gays, and only care about hating the poor.

  2. 2
    d.c.wilson

    I don’t even buy the idea in theory. How could limiting the scope of government possible lead to the end of “corporate bigness”? What this country really needs is an end to the corporate cronyism that pervades or society. A separation of corporation and state, as it were.

  3. 3
    Modusoperandi

    I wrote a much longer, point-by-point comment, but…
     

    “Russ Douthat spells out his vision”

    You lost me at “Russ Douthat”.
     
    That’ll do.

  4. 4
    iangould

    3. Paul and Jindal are two-faced political harlots who will ditch the whole idea the second there’s a campaign donation in the offing or they ned to pander to the social conservatives to win a primary,

  5. 5
    Matt G

    I remember when David Brooks wrote a column in which he acknowledged that “compassionate conservatism” never really happened. Will this be the same? Just more window dressing?

  6. 6
    Mr Ed

    Republican libertarianism is New Coke. If it sells great if not they get some free publicity but in the end it is about marketing and not ideas on governing.

  7. 7
    Scott Hanley

    a strain of thought that … sees the cause of limited government as a means not only to safeguarding liberty, but to unwinding webs of privilege and rent-seeking and enabling true equality of opportunity as well.

    This is the part that made me giggle. In the GOP, invoking limited government has rarely had any purpose other than protecting “webs of privilege and rent-seeking.” Like Arianna Huffington before him, Douthat has made a mistake in taking the propaganda at face value.

  8. 8
    Raging Bee

    …a broader skepticism of “bigness” in all its forms (corporate as well as governmental)…

    The problem with this — the fundamental falsehood that makes the whole thing a scam from the get-go — is that if you oppose and actively seek to dismantle bigness in government, then you’ve destroyed your only effective weapon against bigness in business. We already tried that back in the 19th century, and all it got us was big business with zero checks and balances.

    That actually sounds good to me…

    If you took even one word of that drivel seriously, for even one second, then you’re nowhere near as smart as you’ve made yourself out to be. Seriously, dude, every fucking word of that paragraph has been proven false by the entirety of US history. I’ve known this was all a scam since I was 18, so there’s no good reason in the world for any reasonably educated person to give any of this tired old BS the time of day.

  9. 9
    doublereed

    Yet it seems to me a plain fact that there is no significant electoral faction in American politics that demands the joint reduction of government and corporate power.

    What? Of course there is. That’s progressive. You just don’t find this on the right.

  10. 10
    Raging Bee

    Republican libertarianism is New Coke.

    And it’s not even that new.

  11. 11
    eric

    The return of right-wing civil libertarianism and the re-emergence of an anti-interventionist spirit on the right…

    Wilkinson is spot on. Maybe even a little optimistic – though that’s hard to believe – because in addition to his comment about government and corporate power, there is also no faction of the right wanting to be anti-inteventionist.

  12. 12
    oranje

    Methinks Republican libertarianism is more like Crystal Pepsi.

  13. 13
    democommie

    “Douthat has made a mistake in taking the propaganda at face value.”

    Douchehat isn’t “taking the propaganda at face value”, he’s knowingly promoting a lie. Josef Goebbels would have been sooooooo proud!

  14. 14
    typecaster

    If you took even one word of that drivel seriously, for even one second, then you’re nowhere near as smart as you’ve made yourself out to be.

    Well, Ed said that the statements sounded good, not that he thought any of it would happen. In fact, the whole rest of the article is about why he thinks it won’t. I’m pretty sure that means he didn’t take any of it seriously.

  15. 15
    D. C. Sessions

    I’ve seen some of the Republican discussion of this marketing theme, and they come down in one of two camps:

    1) Old-fashioned “States Rights” right wing. Basically the pre-WWII Republican lasseiz faire isolationism welded to the antebellum Southern version of State sovereignty. Pretty much Ron Paul, and never mind how it would work in elections outside of the current base.

    2) The policies that Ed describes, but with the parts that will piss off the current base removed. In other words, get rid of all regulation, most taxes, any immigration reform other than gun towers every 50 feet along the border with Mexico, repeal of the VRA and CRA, a national ban on abortion, etc. In other words, the current Republican platform.

  16. 16
    Modusoperandi

    D. C. Sessions “any immigration reform other than gun towers every 50 feet along the border with Mexico”
    50 feet? Don’t ever run for office:
    “D. C. Sessions said ‘gun towers every 50 feet along the border with Mexico’. Why is D. C. Sessions so soft on border security? D. C. Sessions; bad for security, bad for America. (paid for by Patriots for Liz Cheney for Power)”

  17. 17
    bmiller

    Christian Reconstructionism does not equal libertarian small government culture to me. Unless by that they mean a return to small towns controlled rigidly by the local ministers, who kept the sinners in their place.

    If I believed that Ron Paul and crew were really anti-interventionists, I might agree with the Paultard argument that the modern consensus (drug wars and a trillion dollar military intervening everywhere the elites in their toxic games deem necessary) causes far more damage to minority communities than the libertarian alternative. But then, I don’t really believe them, so…

  18. 18
    erichoug

    The party of hatred, the party of bigotry, the party of misogyny, the party of racism, the party of bigotry, homophopia, xenophobia and any other form of petty, ignorant fear you could name? Yes, I am sure they will be able to fool some of the people all of the time for the foreseeable future.

    It’s funny, I am strongly pro business, pro gun and on a lot of other issues I am actually quite conservative. And yet in a million years I could never bring myself to vote for the Republican party.

  19. 19
    Raging Bee

    iangould: Paul and Jindal won’t have to ditch any of this BS to pander to social conservatives. In fact, all of that small-government rhetoric was invented to pander to them in the first place; and it allows the panderers to pretend to oppose racism, misogyny, homophobia, etc., while mindlessly opposing any Federal attempt to fight any of those things in any meaningful way. Yes, the “libertarian populists” say they’re moving away from social issues, but the loony right all know they’re still on the same side. Just like the racists always knew that Ron Paul was one of them.

  20. 20
    exdrone

    I am looking forward to the legalization of marijuana plank in the GOP’s new platform.

  21. 21
    scienceavenger

    And the elimination of farm subsidies…

  22. 22
    busterggi

    I am marketing a new product that I call ‘bovine after-meal by product’.

  23. 23
    Subtract Hominem, a product of Nauseam

    Scott Hanley @ 7

    Like Arianna Huffington before him, Douthat has made a mistake in taking the propaganda at face value.

    Douthat is the propaganda.

    ____________

    erichoug @ 18

    The party of hatred, the party of bigotry, the party of misogyny, the party of racism, the party of bigotry, homophopia, xenophobia and any other form of petty, ignorant fear you could name?

    You forgot to mention that they’re also the party of bigotry.

  24. 24
    Doug Little

    Can Libertarian Populism Save the GOP?

    No. The GOP will have to eject the religious right to court any possible gains in the libertarian vote. You think they can be socially progressive without a massive hissyfit from the hard core god botherers?

  25. 25
    Pierce R. Butler

    … the (pre-existing but expanding) conservative interest in prison and sentencing reform…

    If by reform you mean, “Lock ‘em up & fry ‘em!”

  26. 26
    Reginald Selkirk

    but it’s been given more heft by figures like Senator Paul and by potential 2016 contenders like Bobby Jindal

    Meaning that these people managed to win an election, not that they are examples of actual effective governance.

  27. 27
    Raging Bee

    The GOP will have to eject the religious right to court any possible gains in the libertarian vote.

    Excuse me for being rude, but HAW HAW HAW HAW HAW HAW HAW!! Libertarians have been solidly in the Republican camp for as long as I can remember, for one simple and obvious reason: they’re pro-capitalism, anti-regulation, anti-tax, and anti-liberal. They’ve shown countless times that they’ll gladly support the Christian Reich against their most fearsome and longstanding common enemy, no matter how vile the Christian Reich get.

    Libertarians know full well that without the religious conservatives, their anti-government, anti-Constitution, anti-democratic, anti-rational agenda would have almost ZERO popular support.

  28. 28
    Raging Bee

    Another thing to consider: a significant and longstanding part of the libertarian coalition consists of religious right-wingers who despise the US Government for keeping prayer out of public schools and legalizing birth-control, abortion, interracial mariage, and “sodomy.” So no, there’s not gonna be a divorce between libertarians and the religious right anytime in the foreseeable future.

    Oh, and here’s another article seeing through their latest veneer:

    http://www.salon.com/2013/07/30/libertarian_populism_is_a_fraud/

  29. 29
    Chiroptera

    I’m pretty sure that once a Republican gets elected, the “libertarian populism” promises would end up disappearing from the Administration’s website. Well, the non-racist ones anyway.

Leave a Reply

Switch to our mobile site