Sunday, March 01, 2009

Dear Libertarians,
We're just not that into you.
Love, Democrats

Whither the Libertarian Democrat?
A meditation on a failed affair.

Wherein your loyal blogger takes note of the current incarnation of the liberal/libertarian fusionist debate and relates a personal tale of attraction, commitment and rejection.


Shortly after beginning this blog, I had my first exposure to the "Libertarian Democrat" - a post by Markos Moulitsas of Daily Kos on June 7, 2006. I was still a blogging neophyte, feeling my way around the 'sphere and didn't read it until weeks after it was posted. It was a catalyst for me to join Daily Kos and leave the 900th of 900 comments on that post. I don't know if Kos coined the term "Libertarian Democrat", but it was the first I saw it. I found the notion attractive, as it reinforced the rationale with which this blog began - that Single Party Republican Rule represented a demonstrably clear and present danger to both our economic and civil liberties. This from an early post responding to a Ross Douthat argument that libertarians should remain aligned with Republicans:
"Douthat is advocating libertarian fealty to the Republican party, supported by the "enemy of my enemy" argument. This is nonsense. To support the acknowledged benefit of divided government by voting Democratic in the 2006 election, is not the same as "finding a home" in the Democratic party. It is simply tactical support to obtain an immediate and desirable result: Fiscal restraint and better federal governance through the mechanism of divided government. To continue to support Republican single party control of the Federal Government in the face of what has actually transpired over the last five years can only be read as a naked appeal to "pay attention to what Republicans say, but ignore what they do."
While I was dubious about the long-term prospects of the relationship even then, I must admit that the concept of a Libertarian Democrat match was exciting. Sure, I was still on the rebound after the Republicans jilted me for a floozy - that big government, big spending, big deficit, neocon war mongering, faith-based "compassionate conservatism" bitch. So, I was primed and ready when shortly before the midterms, Markos kicked off a Cato Unbound series amplifying his earlier post and offering a proposal of marriage (sort of). There were plenty of libertarians playing hard-to-get or warning about marrying outside the faith, as evidenced by the 87 trackbacks on Markos' post. Nick Gillespie specifically warned that this was really about something a bit sleazier than a marriage:
"A couple of years ago, the great essayist and trash-culture authority Joe Bob Briggs told me about the heroic but–alas!–doomed search for a cinematic pot of gold that was called “couples porn.”... I thought about couples porn a lot while reading Markos Moulitsas’s “The Case for the Libertarian Democrat,” a concept every bit as titillating to me as an inveterate critic of the Bush-era Republican Party as couples porn was to X-rated movie moguls 30 years ago... the GOP won’t be getting anything like that kind of support [from libertarians] come this November or in November 2008. But it’s far from clear that many disgruntled libertarians will — or should be — moving to the Dem column in any straight-ticket way, especially if it means signing on to Meyerson’s “New Dealish,” Scandanavian social democracy (currently being rethought by its practitioners). Until Democratic partisans such as Moulitsas and Reed make a convincing — or maybe even a half-hearted — case for laying in with the party of Robert Byrd and Henry Waxman, they’re just peddling the political equivalent of couples porn."
Quickie Marriage
What the hell. I threw caution to the wind, ignored Nick's advice, and said "I do" to "A marriage of Convenience":
" 2006 we have made a match, and will consummate a marriage of convenience between democrats and libertarians. It may be little more than a fling, a star-crossed union that is destined to fall apart in a year or two. But, it'll have plenty of fireworks, and be fun and exciting while it lasts... Libertarians don't need to be looking for "couples porn" right now. Take my word for it, it is a lot more fun with a partner. Libertarians need to pop some viagra, and take a chance on romance with the Dems for the just next four weeks. Then we'll see how they behave. Sure, the marriage won't last. But it does not need to last longer than November, and who knows? - we might even give birth to something new and interesting. A potent libertarian political force."
Ah - young love. It always starts out so promising. Markos thought the union made a real difference in the mid-terms, as did some libertarians. He said "Libertarian Democrats" was the subject of his next book. Terry Michael wrote a Libertarian Democrat manifesto. I even decided to move in and started cross-posting at the Freedom Democrats blog. Freedom Democrats was started by Logan Ferree, a tireless diarist on Kos, advocate for the concept of the Libertarian Democrat and also an early author of a left-libertarian manifesto.

Performance Issues
Of course it couldn't last. By the summer of 2007, the Kossacks were abusing their libertarian "significant other". Nancy Pelosi and the Democrats controlled Congress, slipped on the ring of power, liked it, and libertarians were filling Viagra prescriptions to keep up the interest. By 2008, with the Presidential campaign in full swing, the GOP was looking sickly. David Weigel was saying "I told you so" and Markos published a book that had nothing to do with libertarians.

At the end of a troubled marriage, everyone has advice for the couple. Friends on both sides, co-workers, spiritual advisers, rivals, professional counselors and strippers all have something to contribute. Over the last few weeks, advice was being doled out with a shovel:
I used the recent movie poster for the image at the top of the post. The movie got mixed reviews, and I probably won't see it until it shows up on my TV. But it precipitated one great quote from the Rolling Stone Peter Traver's review:
"This toxic wisp of a movie is based on a toxic wisp of a book by Greg Behrendt and Liz Tuccillo that was itself based on a toxic wisp of a throwaway line they wrote for TV's Sex and the City."
Heh. But I didn't take this post title from the movie, or the book, or the TV show. I took it from a toxic wisp of a January diary post on Daily Kos that garnered 130 mostly toxic comments. The diary and comments are not vastly different in tone or intellectual content than what I would find on a right wing site at the height of the "Permanent Republican Majority" era in 2003-2005. It represents the identical perspective of partisans in power that expect to stay in power, and I think it is a fair representation of the rank and file Democratic Party gestalt today. That wrapped it up for me.

My journey with the Libertarian Democrat meme starts with Kos and ends with Kos.

Can't we still be friends?
The fate of the Freedom Democrats blog is instructive. This was a vibrant site in 2006-2007. In a recent post, blogger DevP - who had been hosting the site - put the fate of Freedom Democrats (FD) up for consideration to the dwindling membership:
"I personally feel like I should disentangle from the site. FD is fundamentally about a "libertarian democrat" synthesis, and while I'm still a Democrat (and loving it), I'm no longer "libertarian" in any fashion that's meaningful in a political context."
I applaud DevP's honest assessment. You don't need a political synthesis, if you think you are holding all the cards. This is where Brink, Will, and other Liberaltarians are kidding themselves. Today there is no one in the Democratic Party or on the left that are even vaguely interested. There are no allies... There is no synthesis... There is no relationship... They are just not that into you. As it stands today, the liberaltarians are just libertarians playing with themselves. Nothing new there.

From the comments on that post, it looks like Freedom Democrats will indeed continue in one form or another. I am glad to see that and will continue to cross-post if they permit it. In fact - I'll post this on FD over the next couple of days to bookend my participation in the old site.

What about the kids?
A frequently heard Democratic complaint during the Republican ascendancy, was that Republican were only about attaining and keeping power, while Democrats were the party of ideas. I have no idea what the Republican Party stands for today. I really don't. But I understand perfectly what Obama and the Democratic Party is all about. They are all about attaining, maintaining and increasing power - just like the Republicans. That makes it crystal clear what libertarians and the libertarian leaning need to do now. Paraphrasing my comment on FD: The simple fact is this - All of the danger from the state now flows from the Democratic Party. They have all the power, or as close as you can get in what is left of the protection afforded by our constitutional framework. The small interest in libertarian issues that once bubbled up from mainstream Democratic blogs are now derided, discarded or ignored. The Democrats won. The "freedom" part? Not so much.

There is no point in trying to hold this marriage together for the kids. They are going to have their hands full paying for the six years of big government, big spending, big deficit Single Party Republican Rule followed up (after a short two year break) by at least four more years of bigger government, bigger spending, bigger deficit Single Party Democratic Rule.

It's the kids that always suffer in a divorce.

Poor bastards.

UPDATED: 02-Mar-09
Added links. Fixed typos. Edited for grammar and clarity.

Divided and Balanced.™
Now that is fair.


Bowly said...

At the Kos post that inspired this post, the diarist says, "I seem to have missed [libertarian] outrage when we gave away trillions of dollars to banks (and make no mistake Paulson gave away over 5 trillion in guarantees to banks plus our 700 billion)..."

This shows me that the diarist doesn't read many libertarian blogs. Plenty of libertarians were indeed outraged. The diarist should venture outside The Atlantic sometime.

mw said...

@Bowley - True.

andersunny said...

I really enjoyed how you used a metaphor for a love affair in this post.

Also, who let the same writers that wrote Sex and the City write what is essentially a self-help book (He’s just not that into you)? While I am a fan of the show and find it amusing, I find it hard to believe that the "lessons" they could have learned while writing the show could/should translate into a book that millions will take seriously!

mw said...

Thanks for the kind words. My wife liked the show, but I can't say that I ever really understood the popularity and buzz. I guess I just didn't "get it" - except for the gratuitous nudity of course - which I deeply appreciated. I think the "Dogs watching TV" aphorism is applicable here.