Thoughts, essays, and writings on Liberty. Written by the heirs of Patrick Henry.

May 29, 2008

The Huckster — “Libertarians Want To Steal Grammy’s Meds!”

by Brad Warbiany

It’s obvious to all people with functioning brain cells that the Republican party’s reputation has taken quite a beating over this decade. When it’s been dominated by the profligate spending and mismanagement of the “compassionate conservatives”, Mike Huckabee lays the blame at the people who have been criticizing that profligate spending all along, and makes an utter fool of himself in the process:

What can the party do to reverse course?

Republicans need to be Republicans. The greatest threat to classic Republicanism is not liberalism; it’s this new brand of libertarianism, which is social liberalism and economic conservatism, but it’s a heartless, callous, soulless type of economic conservatism because it says “look, we want to cut taxes and eliminate government. If it means that elderly people don’t get their Medicare drugs, so be it. If it means little kids go without education and healthcare, so be it.” Well, that might be a quote pure economic conservative message, but it’s not an American message. It doesn’t fly. People aren’t going to buy that, because that’s not the way we are as a people. That’s not historic Republicanism. Historic Republicanism does not hate government; it’s just there to be as little of it as there can be. But they also recognize that government has to be paid for.

Huckabee makes two logical errors here.

First, he conflates libertarianism’s goals with methods. The goal is a government that is not providing these services, and a private sector that replaces the government provision of services. The State has been built incrementally over the last century and beyond, and society has grown accustomed to the infringement of their own methods for handling social problems by the government. Most libertarians want to see a dramatic reduction in the State, but understand that the methods must also be incremental. Societies such as post-Communist Russia show what happens when you simply disintegrate heavy-handed state control in a society which does not have the natural infrastructure to support it– the State is replaced by other goons, like the mafia.

Second, he assumes that if government doesn’t provide these social services, all hell will break loose when the vacuum forms. As a Baptist preacher, he above all should understand the amazing capacity that Americans have for voluntary charity. He seems to impugn libertarians with the motives of “well, if all hell breaks loose, it’s too f’ing bad.” Instead, our belief is that the government is an inefficient, uncaring, and ultimately unreliable provider of social services, and that the poor and elderly will be better off and our children will be better educated if we get the government out of the way. After all, government didn’t socialize medicine for senior citizens up until a few years ago, and the world hadn’t ended. Government has constantly been “improving” (read “throwing more money and bureaucracy at”) education for 50 years, and watched as American children have fallen further and further behind our international rivals.

Oh, and I don’t understand what Huckabee’s Republican view of government, “to be as little of it as there can be”, defines him any different from that of a Democrat. His view of “as little of it as there can be” seems to include lots of “compassionate conservative” programs, which sounds like it includes a lot of prescription drugs for the elderly and a big federal education bureaucracy. As is true of most politicians, he’d simply prefer that his team be pulling the strings instead of those dirty liberals.

But, if you can believe it, it gets worse. He goes on to prove that he doesn’t understand a thing about libertarians:

My experience in Arkansas was, a lot of the so-called conservatives said “Let’s cut the budget.” But they wanted to add prison sentences, they wanted to eliminate parole, they wanted to have harsher sentences for various crimes. And I said “OK, that’s fine, but that’s going to be expensive. So which do you want?” You can’t have both

I think most libertarians would tell you that our prisons are FAR too crowded, and that we’re wasting our time prosecuting victimless crimes while actual dangerous people roam free. These “so-called conservatives”– who don’t actually call themselves conservatives, mind you– aren’t usually the ones asking for tougher sentences, mandatory minimums, and fuller prisons. We’re the ones arguing against that!

So it would appear that the Huckster’s main point is that for Republicans to reconnect with electoral success, they need to leave those elements asking for reduction in government behind. Instead, they need to be the party of fiscal responsibility, and not grow government QUITE as quickly as the Democrats want (or spend the money in the same places). Yet government growth hasn’t been a problem over the last 7 years of the Bush administration, and increasing government nannyism has not led to widespread acceptance of Huckabee’s version of Republicanism.

I disagree strongly with Huckabee, if that hasn’t been evident already. It truly says something when potential voters respond to a centrist-libertarian Republican candidate in record numbers, preferring him to an idealized Democrat, even if he isn’t real:

And after the debate, a Zogby poll found that even among the young, liberal-skewing viewers of “The West Wing,” Vinick had crushed Santos. Before the episode, viewers between 18 and 29 preferred Santos over Vinick, 54 percent to 37 percent. But after the debate, Vinick led among viewers under age 30, 56 percent to 42 percent. McCain could only dream of such numbers. Or maybe he should try sounding like Arnie Vinick.

“West Wing” producers were taken aback by the reactions of real live “voters” to their real live debate. After seven years of heroically portraying the honest, decent, liberal President Jed Bartlet–an idealized Bill Clinton who wouldn’t take off his coat, much less his pants, in the Oval Office–they weren’t about to let a crotchety old Republican beat their handsome Hispanic hero. So they conjured up a meltdown in a nuclear power plant that Vinick had supported, and Santos won the election.

I remember thinking that during those West Wing episodes… “Why don’t real Republicans ever sound like this?” If they did, I might have a reason to support them instead of Bob Barr come November.

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  • http://www.thelibertypapers.org/author/stephen/ Stephen Littau

    Brad:

    I agree on all points. I hope that Hucksterbee continues to speak up; he’s only going to help the Barr and Obama campaigns. Huckabee is the poster child for everything that is wrong with the Republican Party. He’s worse than John McCain (which is saying a lot).

  • Ben

    Do you think Huckabee is actually as stupid and ignorant as he seems, or that he just acts this way because it makes him popular with a certain group of people?

  • http://dangerouslyidealistic.blogspot.com/ UCrawford

    Ben,

    Do you think Huckabee is actually as stupid and ignorant as he seems, or that he just acts this way because it makes him popular with a certain group of people?

    A little from choice “a”, a little from choice “b”.

  • http://www.no-treason.com Joshua Holmes

    He seems to impugn libertarians with the motives of “well, if all hell breaks loose, it’s too f’ing bad.” Instead, our belief is that the government is an inefficient, uncaring, and ultimately unreliable provider of social services, and that the poor and elderly will be better off and our children will be better educated if we get the government out of the way.

    Maybe so, but if they’re not healthier and better off, the libertarian response is still “that’s too bad”. Huckabee is absolutely correct about libertarianism.

  • Akston

    “That’s too bad” implies a disregard which is not integral to the position. I can care deeply about a problem and work toward a voluntary solution, yet still reject some methods and embrace others. For me, it’s an issue of which recourses are ethical.

    If I lose my job, my house, and my savings (all three of which have simultaneously occurred for me in the past), I have a range of recourses available to me. Included in this range are requests for voluntary aid from friends and charities, extreme deprivation and slow recovery via independent action, and/or “involuntary aid” such as theft, fraud or extortion.

    I my case, I did not find theft, fraud or extortion ethically acceptable. So I relied upon a combination of voluntary aid and independent action.

    I see funding extra-constitutional concerns like healthcare and education using taxation and debasement of the currency is ethically equivalent to theft, fraud and extortion. While they can accomplish the ends, I do not support the means.

    I will not yield the high ground to those who call for admirable endeavors, yet fund them unethically.

  • http://www.no-treason.com Joshua Holmes

    “That’s too bad” implies a disregard which is not integral to the position.

    Ultimately, though, Huckabee is right. If cutting Medicare means old people go without drugs, so be it. We’re not going to restore Medicare just to get old people their drugs.

    I see funding extra-constitutional concerns like healthcare and education using taxation and debasement of the currency is ethically equivalent to theft, fraud and extortion.

    If the Constitution said it was okay, would it no longer be theft? Was the slave trade fine until 1809?

  • http://www.thelibertypapers.org/author/tarran/ tarran

    So Joshua, let me get this straight, if someone does not use violence to grab the stuff they need to satisfy their desires, they’re being “cold and heartless?”

  • Akston

    If the Constitution said it was okay, would it no longer be theft? Was the slave trade fine until 1809?

    A fine point.

    The underlying issue is the distinction between what is right and what is legal. While slave trade was obviously not fine in an ethical sense, it was legal at that time.

    Philosophically, governments are established as some compromise between freedom and safety. From anarchy to oppressive totalitarian regimes, governments reflect where that compromise is set.

    While you correctly identify my reference to the Constitution as extraneous to defining forceful redistribution as a version of theft, I included it to underscore that America’s compromise was set by that document.

    In order to meaningfully determine which (if any) incursions into liberty we should tolerate, we need context. Brooking no governmental theft at all (Anarchism) is a philosophically pure position, but yields a society I would not find acceptable. Alternatively, the pervasive redistribution of wealth of an authoritarian welfare/warfare state also yields a society intolerable to me. Historically, my preference on the spectrum between these two unacceptable extremes has been what I call “Libertarianism”.

    The U.S. Constitution is America’s method of codifying where we set this line. It was written to expressly define the categories and specific instances where our federal government is empowered to intrude upon our liberties and take our money in service to compromises intended to protect our lives, liberties, and property.

    Funding extra-constitutional concerns actually works against this protection and allows the power to be abused (whether the ends are considered by many to be compassionate or not). Funding what limited concerns are provided for by the Constitution is a compromise I’m willing to accept. When I hear calls to federally regulate, subsidize, or entirely fund an extra-constitutional issue, my perennial response is: “Amend the constitution.”

    “…if someone does not use violence to grab the stuff they need to satisfy their desires, they’re being “cold and heartless?”…”

    Brilliantly pithy.

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