Wed 25 Jun 2008
Tracie Sharp is the president of the State Policy Network, a sort of trade association for state-based free-market think tanks. My former employer, the Show-Me Institute, is an SPN member and we found their conferences and other services extremely helpful. I’ve met Tracie a number of times and always found her to be be a sharp, competent, and friendly person.
I’ve given enough money to libertarian organizations that I’m on the solicitation lists of a number of political organizations, including SPN. This is an excerpt from Tracie’s fundraising letter:
Combined with Soros’s other pet project—the far-Left MoveOn.org—Democracy Alliance has the potential to ensure that disasters like the 2006 elections are duplicated this year and interminably into the future.
It seems to me that there was nothing “disastrous” about the 2006 election from a libertarian perspective, or even from a conservative perspective. President Bush has strayed so far from his purported conservative beliefs that he richly deserved the thumping his party got in 2006. And indeed, I think it would be hard to make the case that the 110th Congress was significantly worse than the 109th or 108th Congresses. Congress spent money like drunken sailors in the last two Congresses, ballooning the deficit without Pres. Bush saying a word or lifting a finger (or his veto pen). The current Congress is roughly as profligate, but the president has magically gotten religion and has begun vetoing stuff.
And of course, on a lot of important issues—war, civil liberties, immigration—I regard the Democrats as an improvement in theory, although thus far they’ve proven to be no different than the Republicans were on that score either.
Anyway, I think this nicely illustrates the problem with the conservative-libertarian alliance that is at the heart of a lot of “free market” organizations. Libertarianism and conservatism are very different political philosophies that happen to have found each other convenient political allies in the second half of the 20th century. We got lucky to have a string of politicians—Goldwater, Reagan, Gingrich—who successfully crafted a political program that both parts of the fusionist coalition could support, and as a result, a lot of people have come to view the two as synonymous.
But as the political climate has shifted, the differences have become more apparent, and it’s no longer so obvious that the Republican Party is the party of limited government. Conservatives’ priorities have shifted to the point where many conservatives’ top priorities now seem to be blowing up brown people in other countries, keeping brown people out of this country, and giving the president untrammeled authority to spy on and jail brown people without judicial oversight. These goals have nothing to do with libertarianism, free markets, limited government, or individual liberty.
It’s becoming increasingly true that the “free-market movement” is a polite fiction that continues to be observed because we have built institutions whose continued viability depends on its perpetuation. The cleavage is somewhat less obvious at the state level because state think tanks don’t grapple with the questions of war and executive power that divide conservatives and libertarians at the federal level. But even here, we have politicians signing ridiculous legislation to setting up state-wide databases to track meth consumption and punishing landlords that fail to pry into the personal lives of their Hispanic tenants. A movement that cared about individual liberty and limited government would be speaking out about these questions, but the “free market” movement is frustratingly silent on such questions.
In other words, libertarians are plainly the junior partners in this political coalition. And it’s no longer clear to me that it’s a coalition worth pursuing. Libertarians have made great strides over the last quarter-century building independent libertarian organizations and cultivating a base of libertarian donors. There doesn’t appear to me to be any great value in us continuing to grit our teeth and talk about “the libertarian/conservative movement,” when most conservative organizations decline to return the favor. And given what an unmitigated disaster George W. Bush’s brand of conservatism has been recently, there has never been a better time for those of us not affiliated with any “free market” organizations to make the differences clear.