02 November 2013

How a libertarian is not in the Tea Party, and probably doesn't want to be included in the first place

I've long maintained that the Tea Party is essentially a movement of social conservatives/strong conservative Republicans who reacted rather late to the anti-Bush portions of the initial wave of Paul-ite types opposing the expansive state and executive powers and woke up to these issues upon the ascension of an opposing political figure (Obama) rather than out of some principled conscience. It has always reminded me of a costumed Halloween-Constitution Day theme that has gone on way too long rather than some vibrant anti-statist community that re-assures me I have fellow travelers wishing for a smaller or less invasive state as a broad goal.

Evidence to this effect has been presented in polls for a long time, that the core of the movement holds very strong socially conservative views, and that it is, for the most part, rather anti-libertarian, even sometimes on economic issues for which it is painted as stridently so.

This kind of poll is devastating to that effect. 

I will raise a number of points here (and then raise a few derivations on atheism too, since that concerns me as well).

1) Libertarians have very opposed views on social issues from the Tea Party or Republican party in general. They're virtually the opposite on legalising marijuana (71% for, compared to ~60% opposed), a higher rate than even Democrats and many liberals. They're about as pro-choice as everyone else rather than restrictive on abortion access and rights, and they're much more supportive of physician assisted suicide even than most people, much less conservatives. And finally they're opposed to restrictions on pornography (on the internet in particular). This suggests that candidates who have highlighted such conservative attitudes will not garner much libertarian support or enthusiasm, if not gain outright opposition. This is true regardless of whether the candidate has a D or an R next to them as many Democrats are pro-drug war or will support various restrictions on abortion, for example.

2) Gay marriage remained an outlier to this (roughly 60% opposed, less than Republicans/Tea Party types but much less support than other issues).

I have less of a philosophical appreciation for why this might be, since I am broadly supportive of gay marriage personally. Naturally I am bothered by this polling result and how it reflects upon "my" politics.

I have encountered fairly libertarian-leaning people who have implied that the state shouldn't be involved in marriage in the first place, as yet one more intervention they think is unnecessary. Philosophically there's a great deal of merit to that claim to avoid the state's interventions where ever possible, but practically and legally, it is absurd. Marriage is already defined by the state in too many ways through common law and legal codes to eliminate it in a broad stroke, and is so defined in ways that differ widely from "traditional" notions already (such as the easier availability of divorce) that concerns over protecting "traditional" marriages make little sense to me.

By contrast, similar private contracts made by homosexual couples (such as wills or custody assignments) are often violated or voided by states rather than upheld as the wishes and private arrangements of their citizens. This is a great injustice committed by the state, arguably greater than the injustice of having the state involved in marriage laws in the first place since all that does is standardize contracts which can still be easily amended for particular demands (but not all, since taxation and legal residency status aren't property rights individuals confer by right upon each other as individuals in contract). It might be better if we were to start from scratch avoiding the state interventions in a new system, that argument can be made. That's not the world we live in, where most of those interventions are broadly popular and will not be practically simple to divorce from the powers of the state. It does not impress me as a reason to oppose extending these same legal rights to homosexuals. I would be much more impressed by this argument if a) people making it were to describe specific or particular types of powers in marriage laws that they would prefer to see abolished, including some of those that benefit themselves, b) they would accede to a method of enforcement of these contracts that was less arbitrary in the first place as a means of acknowledging that their own arrangements would likely be respected and favorably treated while other people's might not be so honored, and c) how this method would differ from having the state enforce marriage contracts as it does already. And along with any of that, some evidence that the general public could be persuaded to support such amendments to the structure of marriage contracts or enforcements or already supports such changes. Mostly I just see this expressed as a platitude that the state shouldn't be doing it rather than as a course of action on how it would cease. Which is perhaps philosophically and rhetorically appealing but isn't an objection to amending the status quo arrangement in some modest way.

3) Libertarians seem to identify at least marginally with the Republican party anyway. I suspect this is from some affinity to economic rhetoric which is less hostile to markets and more hostile to regulation and taxes.

I'm not sure it has borne out much fruits however as Republicans have repeatedly and whole-heartedly embraced some foolishly anti-market or anti-economically sensible business-corporate handouts while in office, and have persisted in these habits (see the agriculture bill or transportation votes earlier this year) even as these supposedly anarchistic Tea Party representatives have taken offices. Some have more principled positions (Mike Lee's proposal on transportation and gasoline taxes is not terrible for example) but these are still the minority amongst both Tea Party types and Republicans in general. Other than keeping taxes relatively low but mostly incoherent, I'm not sure what policy victories Republicans can claim here. Opposition to the ACA/ObamaCare is related to this however and may be considered as a major issue of shared concern (given the overwhelming percentage of libertarians who supported a notion that much more health care should be devolved to the individual's economic concern and planning rather than existing as a basic right as liberals or communitarians might claim).

The main questions this raises for me are as follows:
a) Why do libertarians perceive Democrats as poorly as they do. Is this from the hostility of liberal commenters and editorials to libertarian politics and objections as a tribal affiliation (something which many conservatives, particularly social conservatives, often adopt as well)? Or is this from hostility to Democratic policy choices and preferences? Or from ignorance of the similarities of the two parties and their supporters on many issues?
b) It appears libertarians and Tea Party types generally see both Republicans and Democrats as being far more liberal than they actually are. I see both as much less liberal than they are believed to be by others of less libertarian persuasion, curiously. I'm left wondering why there isn't very much of a left-libertarian lean available in expression.
c) Why do libertarians not bow out entirely from Republican politics or, perhaps alternatively, take alliances of convenience with the "most" libertarian candidate running, regardless of whether this is a D or R candidacy, whoever promotes particularly liberty-based preferences in the most categories of importance to the individual voter and can thereby be worked with to advance those into policy changes or the abolition of existing policy. The assumption of both parties seems to be that people voting for libertarians are doing so out of a disaffection with Republicans or conservatives rather than to express a particular strain of policy desires. While that might be accurate for now, as Republicans are increasingly seen as old-white guys, and libertarians are mostly drawing from younger white guys, that may come to a change in the party's stance on some key issues or may come to an abandonment of the party in favor of Democrats who are more flexible on economic concerns or third party candidates who are often more inflexible but much closer to ideological policy preferences.

4) Libertarians had a very unfavorable view overall of immigration and immigrants. Since most of the libertarian leaning scholarship I encounter personally and libertarian leaning commentary on the subject of immigration I consume has a very, very positive view of immigration, both economically and personally/culturally/historically. Perhaps since I came up in a rather diverse group of friends and classmates, descended from recent immigrants in many cases my own views are less suspicious of "others". I suspect this overall trend has to do with the near-universal whiteness of libertarians and some sort of racial hostility to Latinos or Africans, and to a lesser extent various Asian migrants. What confuses is me though is that it is a much stronger hostility than is expressed by even Tea Party constituencies. I do not communicate much with the Ron Paul/Lew Rockwell types but they seem much stronger than I had thought amongst libertarian perspectives. This was disconcerting as it was one of the few negatives that was stronger among libertarians than conservatives.

5) Religion plays a big part in why Tea Party types and Republicans in general differ from libertarians. There's a huge percentage of both evangelicals AND unaffiliated "nones" involved versus the more communitarian Catholic population, but there are still fewer evangelicals than are affiliated with Republicans or the Tea Party. These means that while there are still plenty of "religious right" affiliated types within a given libertarian population, it's very different from the Tea Party or social conservative constituencies that make up larger portions of Republican voter blocs where most such persons see themselves as far right religious voters. This may also reflect the distinctions on social issues being a hands-off from government approach rather than a strict legal regime, a greater tolerance for "good-without-god" morality (than even the general population provides), and a generally less religious outlook governing their politics or perhaps even individual lives.

6) In a less related point, but one which I've raised before here. The population of Americans who express belief in a "personal god" in this poll is over 60%. While this percentage is perhaps lowered to a more tolerable level by excluding evangelical Protestants, it is still much higher than many European secular Democracies or the views of many theological scholars for that matter. Atheists are often told that this belief is limited to the outlandish worldview of the religious right, but this ignores that:
a) the religious right is a very large and substantial portion of the American population, and exerts considerable control over the politics and the subsequent laws and regulations of many states, or within states to the city/town/county level, and up to federal representatives via its ability to mobilize over activism on particular causes and issues and to attempt to hold elected officials to particular mandates over these causes and concerns. It is not an insubstantial percentage of people who really don't matter who are being argued with by atheists on the application of these beliefs to political policies, much less the application of scientific reasoning or empirical deductions about the problems that are faced by individuals and the institutions and social groups they construct (like nation-states). They are quite real and they are quite numerous and they are quite busy.
b) It is not so limited to only crazy-right-wingers as indeed many people guided by communitarian left-wing politics express similar attitudes. That population is probably still significantly larger than the population of libertarians or atheists taken as a whole and still expresses sentiments or broad philosophical agreement with many state interventions based upon religious beliefs. Even if they might oppose some of the more strident objects taken up by the religious right (like legal opposition to gay marriage or abortion say) they may take up often paternalistic sentiments about health or provisions to the poor in kind rather as a raw cash transfer on the basis that some god-figure wants them to set up the state thus instead of out of some empirical assessment that this or that approach could best help the poor or the sick.

I think much of this is that most religious people who hold a more modest or vague view when pressed either lie about holding this view but are far more comfortable with the notion of a personal entity as a deity in their daily lives or just don't hang out that often among more literal Biblical types who take this personal entity far more seriously and assume that they are a rarer commodity in the general public. This second explanation is fairly likely as many people are uncomfortable holding religious conversations anyway and are not extensively skilled in debating theological points or consistently applying them as a practice of their faith.
Post a Comment