The Awakening Libertarian Masses ?
Reason Magazine’s Nick Gillespie and
David Weigel Matt Welch have a front-page piece in this week’s Washington Post Sunday Outlook section devoted to explaining to the Beltway glitterati just what this libertarian thing is all about:
When a fierce Republican foe of the wars on drugs and terrorism is able, without really trying, to pull in a record haul of campaign cash on a day dedicated to an attempted regicide, it’s clear that a new and potentially transformative force is growing in American politics.
That force is less about [Texas Congressman Ron] Paul than about the movement that has erupted around him — and the much larger subset of Americans who are increasingly disillusioned with the two major political parties’ soft consensus on making government ever more intrusive at all levels, whether it’s listening to phone calls without a warrant, imposing fines of half a million dollars for broadcast “obscenities” or jailing grandmothers for buying prescribed marijuana from legal dispensaries.
And while the media focuses on opposition to the Iraq War as the primary reason behind the phenomenon of people who have never been involved in politics before rallying behind a grandfather from Texas, Gillespie and
Weigel Welch argue that there’s more to it than that, and more to it than just Ron Paul:
[I]f war were the only answer for his improbable run, why Ron Paul instead of the perennial peacenik Dennis Kucinich, the Democratic congressman from Ohio whose apparent belief in UFOs is only slightly less kooky than his belief in the efficacy of socialized health care?
Part of the reason is Republican muscle memory. Paul’s “freedom message” is the direct descendant of Barry Goldwater’s once-dominant GOP philosophy of libertarianism (which Ronald Reagan described in a 1975 Reason magazine interview as “the very heart and soul of conservatism”). But that tradition has been under a decade-long assault by religious-right moralists, neoconservative interventionists and a governing coalition that has learned to love Medicare expansion and appropriations pork.
So Paul’s challenge represents a not-so-lonely GOP revival of unabashed libertarianism. All his major Republican competitors want to double down on Bush’s wars; none is stressing any limited-government themes, apart from half-hearted promises to prune pork and tinker on the margins of Social Security.
The real test isn’t going to come from who wins in New Hampshire, or who wins the Republican nomination. The real test will be whether the events of 2007 and 2008 encourage others in the Republican Party (and I say Republican Party, because the prospect of the Democrats ever becoming a free-market party again are essentially nil) to turn take their party back from the authoritarians. Gillespie and
Weigel Welch, at least think that it will:
Ron Paul may lose next year’s battle — though not without a memorable fight — but the laissez-faire agitators he has helped energize will find themselves at the leading edge of American politics and culture for years to come.
Let’s hope they’re right.
Update: Edited to note the fact that Matt Welch was the co-author of this Op-Ed piece, not David Weigel.