Tuesday, January 30, 2007
For the past half-century, the American political landscape has been defined by an uneasy alliance between small-government libertarians and social traditionalists. United under the banner of “fusionism” (a political label coined, as so many seem to be, by one of its critics), this improbable coalition of iconoclastic Oscars and fastidious Felixes came to define the conservative movement for the Cold War era. That movement is coming undone.
By the middle of George W. Bush’s first term, rumblings about a conservative crack-up were already being heard on the right. Now—after six years of single-party rule marked by ballooning budgets, homophobic demagoguery, religiously-inflected moral preening, catastrophic military adventurism, casual contempt for civil liberties, and a view of executive power that would make Caesar blush—many of us are ready to jump ship. Last month, noting that progressive blogger Markos “Kos” Mouslitsas had already declared himself a “libertarian Democrat, Brink Lindsey of the libertarian Cato Institute made waves with a New Republic essay proposing a new “liberaltarian” coalition.
The response from the left thus far has been, to put it politely, unenthusiastic. (It probably doesn’t help that “liberaltarian” may be the most cringe-inducing neologism since the New York Times coined “hipublican.”) But the real test of a political coalition’s viability is in practice, not theory. If it’s too soon to pick out drapes, it may at least be worth trying dinner, a movie, and a protest rally. College progressives can take the first step by seeking ad-hoc, issue-specific opportunities for cooperation with their libertarian counterparts on campus.
Your first thought may be: “Why bother? If I want to be called a commie, I can watch Fox News. If I want to hear someone quote at length from Ayn Rand… well, I’ll never want that.” But progressives have much to gain from reaching out to libertarians, and this may be an especially crucial time to try it.
Consider the findings of a recent study by the libertarian Cato Institute, which pegged the proportion of the electorate with broadly libertarian attitudes at about 13 percent. Statistics for the general population show that voters under 30 preferred Kerry to Bush, 54-45 percent. But according to the Cato study, libertarians in the same age bracket broke for Kerry by a whopping 71-24 percent. That’s in sharp contrast to older libertarian voters, who preferred Bush by about the same margin. It’s also a sharp reversal from 2000, when younger libertarians favored Bush almost as strongly.