Democrats, Republicans, Libertarians, Religious Conservatives — and Governing Coalitions

Here’s the text of an email conversation that Lex and I had recently:

Me: Link

This argument isn’t new but I think it’s essentially valid, and it’s presented well in this article.

Lex: Any successful party is a coalition. If it is successful long enough the members of the coalition start to grumble that they are not getting enough of what they want. I think there is a decent chance that the elements of the GOP coalition can fragment. The wishes of libertarians for a more libertarian approach will be dashed. The hopes of the Christian Right, which is actually what I am when you get down to it, for a more culturally conservative approach, will also be dashed. Neither group has enough numbers to get any of what it wants without being part of a coalition. The Religious Right is also generally for small government, so they are less likely to see anything at all to like about the Democrats. The libertarians may like the fact that the Democrats are for gay marriage, pornography and abortion and also drug legalization. Glenn Reynolds is very clear that he is against the GOP mainstream on these issues, for example, as one would expect of a professional academic. However, the core libertarian view has always been smaller government, and a key element of that has been gun rights. The Democrats have absolutely nothing to offer on these issues. However, libertarian voters are fickle and perfectionistic. So, they may vote for socialism to get pornography, for at least one election. I have never been a libertarian. Still, I am just not worried about the GOP coalition breaking up when (1) the Democrats seem not to have much to offer to anyone outside their current core constituencies, and (2) national security is a major issue and the Democrats are incoherent. The idea that the current Democrat leadership has the wit to “reach out” to libertarians is almost funny. Libertarian wishful thinking. If they do very badly in 2006 they may wake up and get their shit together in time for 2008. We’ll see what happens.

Me: A successful coalition has the largest amount of both members and dissatisfaction.

I agree with you mostly. The Dems are in a bind, because they can’t offer the libertarians or religious conservatives much of value without giving up their core socialism and control-freakiness.

There are lots of different value mixes among libertarians. I am pretty libertarian but I’m also opposed to gay marriage and favor substantial restrictions on abortion. The deal-killers for me with the Democrats are guns and, even more, the Democrats’ class envy and hostility to small business. I suspect that the issue that best encapsulates the ideological divide here is the death tax.

11 thoughts on “Democrats, Republicans, Libertarians, Religious Conservatives — and Governing Coalitions”

  1. The article (well, the response section) makes a solid point, though — if Republicans continue to shift toward big government, one of the key issues that holds libertarians in this coalition will dissolve.

    I think most libertarians will stick to the R side, but it doesn’t take a whole lot staying home to swing a state or two.

  2. I think about this a lot. Being a small business owner, gun nut, supporter of stong military and all around “leave me alone” type of guy the Dems obviously have nothing for me.

    But the bigger issue is what have the Republicans done for me? From where I sit, I have seen them get pushed around with a majority in the Senate and House and holding the Presidency. They couldn’t get the Estate Tax scuttled once and for all? Wha?

    It only takes a good personality to start siphoning votes away from a lackey Republican candidate. In the last gubernatorial race here in Wisconsin the Libertarian candidate, Ed Thompson (Tommy’s brother) garnered over 10% of the vote. I voted for him. Who do you think got killed because of that number? Of course, the Republican.

    A third party candidate, while far from being able to win can certainly do damage if he pushes the right buttons. Thompson pounded the theme of “lets toss the corrupt s.o.b.’s out” and also the standard Libertarian themes on abortion (with which I don’t happen to agree), guns, drugs, porn and other things.

    My friends poo-poo me a lot on voting for third party candidates because they all know if Hillary runs, we will all crawl across broken glass to vote against her – and that is a good point as well.

  3. Make that two Dan. I also voted for Ed. McCallum was such a corrupt and arrogant schmuck though. No way I was going to vote for him.

    Lex forgot defense in his list.

    “gay marriage, pornography and abortion and also drug legalization”
    I’m a libertarian. I’m ok with the above 4 issues. Liberartarians are very much “do your own thing” so that takes out #1 and #2. I don’t like seeing simple stupidity on the part of a 14 year old girl destroying her life so I’m ok with #3. #4 is just a pretense to take away liberty.

    But! Guns and defense trump those 4. That’s the part Lex missed. Issues have weight. I don’t vote Dem. Period.

  4. Dan from Madision,

    From where I sit, I have seen them get pushed around with a majority in the Senate and House and holding the Presidency

    One possible explanation maybe that while the Republicans control three of the four estates, the fourth estate, the press stands largely against them.

  5. On a different site I post at, one Democratic partisan hack, sick of getting outreasoned, but unable to convincingly label others as “Republican”, finally posted an entry saying that libertarians are clueless. (That’s odd because that’s not usually a Democratic position.) After some arguments in both directions, I noted the following:

    There are essentially two views of government here, one active, one passive. The passive view argues that government should address problems not covered by the market after the problems arise; the active view argues that government should anticipate and prevent all problems not addressed by the market. Pete has most succinctly summed this up, and skooly runs a close second.

    A problem arises, however, when the proponents of one side deny everything about the other side. For example, the “passivist” camp is unwilling to concede that sometimes intervention has been right, such as the forced desegregation of Little Rock HS; and the “activist” camp is unwilling to concede that government might not always know best.

    It seems, however, that the “activist” camp is more willing to villify members of the “passivist” camp. Where the “passivists” are merely skeptical of government’s ability to know what’s best for individuals, “activists” have in at least one instance made the erroneous assumption that rejection of, for example, the FDA, would necessarily entail a return of all things to the way they were before the establishment of the FDA. (I won’t mention names.)

    Why is that erroneous? It is erroneous because it takes as its premise that the effects of the FDA exist in a vacuum. Another typicial example is the argument that racial quotas must be maintained, because without them, we will necessarily return to a societal state that tolerates, among other things, Jim Crow laws, lynchings, and the like. In both examples, the premise that the effects of a particular program or system of program exist in a vacuum must, by definition, deny that any societal progress has been made.

    In a sense, it’s the notion that humanity is, by default, horrid, but that it is perfectible. The clear question this presents is: Who will define “perfection”? Who will define the direction in which society must be forced to go?

    The “passivist” camp, on the other hand, accepts humanity is flawed, but does not see humanity is either perfectible or contemptible. It is in a sense a more organic view, preferring to let individuals make their mistakes, even if those individuals pay the ultimate price, and letting society learn from those mistakes.

    It is frankly impossible, in my view, to anticipate all the stupid things individuals and even societies can do. Ironically, “activists” tend to see the persistence of stupidity as proof that they don’t have enough power, and/or that the “right people” aren’t being allowed into power. And whether out of an idealistic desire to rectify the wrongs of society, or perhaps even out of a lust for power, “activists” continue to proffer more and more entitlement programs, made possible of course by giving more power to the government. But, of course, power corrupts. But “activists” (whether they’re social liberals or social conservatives) insist that they’ll get it right, that they’re immune to such temptations. Scipios, unfortunately, are rare.

  6. How many Libs (Free Marketeers) does it take to change a light bulb?
    None — the free market will take care of it.

    Nice joke; I love it.
    But what politician can win by claiming credit for the free market solving a problem?

    Keynes gave politicians “something active to do”. Too many voters, given any problem, want the government to “do something.”

    The Reps in office are trying to bribe the voters, just like the Dems do; but at least with tax cuts, too.

    Libs, or Christians (which I’ve become much more), need to get active in the Rep Primaries.

    Why was there nobody else on the CA-41 Jerry Lewis Rep Primary ballot? Because cutting pork wasn’t important enough for any national org.

    As long as the Reps keep looking for coalition mates, and the Dems keep looking to drive out any heretic … on abortion; on Iraq; on taxes (tax the rich! for more gov’t cash for all); the Reps will be OK.

  7. I think it’s worth noting that the term “Libertarian” can be quite vague and misleading when broadly applied. There are almost as many definitions of what the LP stands for as there are individual Libertarians themselves, which is probably to be expected from those who organize around a rugged individualist political viewpoint. As Lex no doubt remembers, Hackett-Fischer assigns different political cultures in the US their own particular “type” of Libertarianism, and I think the result of this is that we Libertarians tend to hold positions that range across a wide chunk of the political spectrum in relation to Democrats and Republicans.

    This said, because the current Democratic Party is led by unabashed “Progressives” (Yellow Dogs), it’s been fairly easy for Libertarians to recognise there’s not many within the Democratic leadership wooing us with open arms. On the other hand, the overwhelming success of Libertarian-Conservative projects, like The Federalist Society, has convinced a large number of Republican factions that Libertarians are valuable allies. The hard core religious right wing of the GOP coalition might not like Libertarians, but I think it’s safe to claim that they’ve come to see us as “loyal opposition” rather than as the “anarchist libertine’s” of the past.

    So while any number of GOP coalition factions might not like Libertarians, they’re usually willing to concede, in private at least, that they’ve benefitted from the cross-fertilization, even if only to patch up weaknesses in their own arguments that Libertarians exploit effectively. By identifying where the administration is vunerable to criticism from the center, the GOP has largely been able to adjust it’s positions just enough to force the Democrats to attack them from the Left. Because any given policy is going to be exposed to at least two fronts of criticism, from either a Left/Right extreme AND from a Center position, the GOP has been able to seize the “high-ground” of many debates.

    Additionally, because the Yellow Dog Democratic leadership is “Progressive”, they’re ability to hold onto the Party reigns depends on squashing up-start “Blue Dog” Democrats, who tend to represent fairly Libertarian leaning constituencies and to favor policy that’s more Libertarian than Progressive. Thus when the GOP coalition adopts positions that are likely to appeal to Blue Dog Democrats and Libertarians alike, the GOP can be fairly certain that the Democrats will adopt a weaker overall position in reply rather than a stronger position that might give the Blue Dogs more authority within the internal Party balance of power. As these positions draw fire from the Libertarian Center independent of the GOP, it means the Democrats, rather than the GOP, find themselves fighting a two front battle from both the Center AND the Right. For a Libertarian, it doesn’t matter that the GOP position on a given issue is open to attack from the Center… if the Democrat position is far enough to the Left, we’ll allow the GOP a “free ride” merely because it’s substantially more moderate than the Democrat alternative.

    For those factions within the GOP coalition typically labelled, the “religious far right”, there’s a general understanding that the Democratic coalition is SOO hostile to religion that there’s no place for them anywhere within the Democratic Party. It’s the Republican coalition or nothing. For Libertarians, the willingness of the Republican coalition to shift traditionally “religious” policy away from the Federal level and down to the State level, is an acceptable solution for divisions that used to exclude us from the GOP by definition. The result is that whereas thirty years ago a Libertarian was more likely to be taken seriously be a Democrat, today it’s Republicans who are more likely to engage in open debate with Libertarians, whilst the Democrats become deaf to anything that questions Party dogma.

    Anyway… It might be helpful to think of “Libertarians” as falling into three camps: Purists, Republican-alligned libertarians, and Democrat-alligned libertarians. The balance between these three sub-sets is defined by the major Parties relations with Libertarians in general, and this is what I understood Lex and Jonathans exchange to be referring to.

  8. The Democrat party loved limited government and states rights when it was in the wilderness between the Civil War and the Great Depression. After they seized the reigns of power, the loved powerful government. They still do.

    The Republicans loved limited government and states rights when they were in the wilderness from the Great Depression, until 2001. Now they love powerful government.

    The old Democrats will die off, and a new generation will arise and they will love limted government.

  9. One of the essential elements of politics that seems to be left out of this discussion is people.

    This is a representative republic, not a democracy. We vote for people whom, I would hope, we believe represent us and our best interests, not just agree with everything we think about various issues.

    Whether the person is a Dem or Rep, the quality of that vote seeker must be every bit as important in the decision process as which group he or she is affiliated with.

    Many people, myself included, have been frequently dismayed at the lack of specific qualities which are more important than the opinion of a candidate on one or two issues.

    I don’t mind disagreeing with someone if I believe they are generally an honest and thoughtful person when they approach problems.

    The difficulty I have with almost all the political types running around these days is the lack of both those qualities, regardless of party affiliation or campaign rhetoric.

  10. Thanks, veryretired, for making that important point. I usually give Bush the benefit of the doubt despite my disagreement with many of his policies, because I think that he is essentially honest and is making sincere efforts to deal with the biggest issues of the day. I found Clinton much harder to support as a leader, even when I agreed with his policies, because I thought that he was essentially dishonest and often put his personal political interests ahead of the good of the country.

  11. I never cared much for either Bush, and would have been very happy to see another candidate from the Reps as well as the Dems.

    I frequently find myself asking a very basic question about most all of these politicos—how in the world does anyone feel that these disembodied cultural aristocrats actually represent them or their basic interests?

    Clinton, although I didn’t care for him or his policies, at least was a real person. Colin Powell was another figure who made his own way.

    But Bush? or Gore? These rich kids, steeped in politics from the cradle, remind me of second and third generation actors. Talent doesn’t pass down through the genes like athleticism.

    I intensely dislike and distrust dynastic politics, whether the name is Bush, Kennedy, or Clinton, among many others.

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