libertarians should not pander to conservatives or anyone else for that matter
Over at National Review, I’ve seen some puzzling articles about Gary Johnson, the libertarian candidate for president. First, there was an article that argued that Johnson was not truly libertarian. This strikes me as odd since politicians, especially successful ones like Johnson, are usually pragmatists, not college professors and it is strange for a conservative magazine to judge who is libertarian enough. Second, there was an article urging Johnson to court the right. This is also odd in that, aside from taxes and gun rights, libertarians have opposite beliefs from conservatives on issues ranging from migration, war, and cultural issues. These aren’t small differences. They’re YUGE.
Ultimately, though, libertarians should not court the right for practical and moral reasons. In practical terms, the libertarian-conservative alliance has been a complete failure. When libertarian candidates run for office within the GOP, they rarely get any support. In the last three presidential primaries, we’ve seen libertarian candidates run in the GOP and they have all failed miserably. Simply put, Republican voters have consistently rejected libertarians at almost every opportunity.
There is also policy. Except for the economic deregulation of the late 70s and early 80s, the conservative movement has sided against libertarians. Conservatives have supported nearly every single war in decades, they have sided with the expansion of police powers, they have sided with the war on drugs, they have stood for deportations of non-violent migrants, they have sided against women, minorities, and queer people when they have asked for civility and enforcement of rights, and they have sided with the massive expansion of the surveillance state after 9/11. How these stances emerge from a deep respect for individual people is beyond my ken. Whatever has been gained by the alliance of conservatives and libertarian is so paltry in stature that it requires a magnifying lens to observe.
Does this mean that libertarians should flock to liberals or the Democratic party? I don’t think so. One could easily write an equally long article about the incompatible aspects of modern liberalism. Libertarians, for example, are comfortable with wealth that is earned through the production of value, while liberals see economic inequality as inherently unfair or corrosive.
Instead, I suggest that libertarians approach politics through openness and bridge building. First, libertarians should stand their ground just as much as liberals or conservatives, but be open to interacting and cooperating with all manner of people. Not only is it smart for a movement that is a very small numerical minority, it is also consistent with the view that freedom of speech, diversity, and respect for others is part of the libertarian ethos. Second, libertarians should be a bridge. There are many issues where libertarians can maintain integrity while bringing things together instead of contributing to a polarized political environment. For example, libertarians can be part of the conversation on police powers that draws together concerned people on the left and right. In the end, what I want is a movement that makes the world a better place. That will happen with engagement and civility, not partisanship or pandering.