The Libertarian Effect

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In one closely watched Congressional race — Indiana's 9th Congressional District — and two critical Senate races — Missouri and Montana — the Republican candidate was defeated by fewer votes than the Libertarian candidate received.

[Note: the last data I could find on the Missouri race still had two of the 3,746 precincts to report, so it is possible that statement isn't true for Missouri, but if it is not true it is still very close and does not diminish my point.]

In other words, in these two critical Senate races and in Indiana, if the Republican had gotten the Libertarian's votes, the Republican would have won.

For the rest of this article, please recognize that I am speaking of the small-"l" libertarian, and not the Libertarian Party of the candidates mentioned above. A "libertarian," in the shortest definition I can muster, is someone who is fiscally conservative and socially liberal. In other words, it is someone who wants the government to perform a very small set of legitimate functions and otherwise leave us alone.

I can hardly contain my glee at seeing this happen after years of hoping it would. And in such dramatic fashion, with such important results. I did not hope it would because I wanted Republicans to lose, but because the Republicans had become corrupted (by which I do not mean corrupt in the typical sense.)

They became enamored of power, and believed that they could get away with expanding the size, intrusiveness, and cost of government as long as they had government aim for "conservative" goals rather than liberal ones. This loss, and the way it happened, was the best thing that could have happened for Americans who care about a government focused on limited government and liberty.

No, the Democrats are not that government. They believe in anything but limited government, and they only believe in liberty in one's personal life, but not in one's economic life. In a sense, Democrats believe that the citizens work for the government.

Republicans on the other hand have acted in just the opposite way: they believe in economic liberty and they know we do not work for government. But they do not believe in personal liberty. The failure of the strategery of the Republicans, to focus on "the base" by trotting out social issues such as the South Dakota no-exception abortion ban (which lost, I'm pleased to say) demonstrated two things: First, social issues do not have long coattails. Second, the GOP base is fiscal conservatives more than it is social conservatives.

Fiscal conservatives, even more than social conservatives, were the demotivated voting bloc. Fiscal conservatives who are not socially conservative, i.e. voters who are libertarian even if they don't know it or wouldn't identify themselves that way, were the key swing vote in this election and were the reason that the GOP lost Congress, the Senate in particular.

In a recent study called "The Libertarian Vote", David Boaz (Cato Institute) and David Kirby (America's Future Foundation) discuss the growing number of American libertarians, the growing dissatisfaction among them (including me) with the GOP, and the continuing shift in voting patterns caused by that dissatisfaction. Tuesday held the obvious conclusion of this shift.

The party which went from reforming welfare to banning Internet gambling by sticking the ban inside a port security bill, the party which went from Social Security reform to trying to amend the federal Constitution to prevent gay marriage, the party which went from controlling the size and scope of government to banning horse meat became a party which libertarians and Republicans alike could not stomach.

The Democrats are a disaster, though they probably realize they need to move to the center. The Republicans have just been taught a brutal lesson that they also need to move to the center (on social issues) and back to fundamental principles of our Founders on issues of economics and basic liberties. No party can rely on the unappealing nature of their opponent to be a strong enough motivation to win elections, nor should we let them win if being just a bit better than the other guys is all they aspire to.

What I love about libertarian voters is that they vote on principle, not on party. The GOP might not like it, but politics should not be about blind loyalty if your party has lost its way. So, I disagree with suggestions that libertarians are fickle and unreliable voters. Instead the Republicans became an unreliable party. The Democrats on the other hand are extremely reliable — they will always raise spending and taxes, get government involved where it doesn't belong. But other than the tax cuts of several years ago, the Republicans have been no different other than choosing different areas of our lived to intrude upon.

I hope that the result of the "Libertarian Effect," particularly on the GOP, will be that the next election may provide us an opportunity to replace this batch of Democrat placeholders with congressmen who not only have read the Constitution, but respect it. Congressmen who understand that Republican voters do not elect politicians to have them impose their (or our) morality on the people, but rather to keep government from interfering in our lives and leaving us, in the immortal words of Milton Friedman, "Free to Choose."