Libertarians: Privilege & Partisanship

Here are two blog posts that connect. They’re about some of the problems and limitations of the present conservative-leaning libertarian world view. I entirely agree.

http://usjamerica.wordpress.com/2009/11/04/libertarians-and-diversity-or-lack-thereof/

At the above link, the blogger is responding to these articles:

http://reason.com/archives/2009/10/20/are-property-rights-enough

http://www.willwilkinson.net/flybottle/2009/10/25/liberty-in-context/

And he responds with this commentary:

. . . libertarianism – as a political movement – is overwhelmingly white and male.  We tend to think of the racial composition of a political movement as just having electoral consequences, but it also has a profound effect on the core ideology of said movement.  At the risk of oversimplifying a bit, marginalized voices – racial and ethnic minorities, women, gays, etc. – are overrepresented among liberals and as such, the left that has been forced to grapple with the issues and concerns of marginalized communities in such a way as to make liberalism better equipped to deal with these issues.

It seems that insofar that libertarians experience oppression or constraints on their liberty, it is through the actions of the state rather than through culture, which makes sense. Libertarians are overwhelmingly white and male, and in a culture which highly values whiteness and maleness, they will face relatively fewer overt cultural constraints on their behavior than their more marginalized fellow-travelers.  Or in other words, a fair number of libertarians are operating with a good deal of unexamined privilege, and it’s this, along with the extremely small number of women and minorities who operate within the libertarian framework, which makes grappling with cultural sources of oppression really hard for libertarians.  After all – socially speaking – being a white guy in the United States isn’t exactly hard and that’s doubly true if you are well off.

Here is the comment I left:

You hit the nail on the head. What goes for libertarian these days tend to be rich white males. I pointed this out in a recent post of mine:

https://benjamindavidsteele.wordpress.com/2010/08/24/libertarianism-rich-white-males-of-the-republican-party/

They’re concerned about freedom from rather than freedom for because of the reasons you stated. As they grew up with privilege, they’ve never known prejudice, poverty, and oppression. They don’t understand that there are still people in this country fighting for the basic rights and privilege that they accept as being their normal reality.

The thing is libertarianism wasn’t always this way. According to Chomsky, libertarianism began as a socialist workers movement in Europe. The founding father of American libertarianism was Henry David Thoreau who was very liberal and not pro-capitalist. I wrote about Thoreau’s libertarianism in another recent post:

https://benjamindavidsteele.wordpress.com/2010/08/30/henry-david-thoreau-founding-father-of-american-libertarian-thought-by-jeff-riggenbach/

The second blog post I mentioned is this:

http://freesmith.wordpress.com/2010/04/19/neo-libertarians/

. . . new libertarians are really disappointed conservatives, traditionalists and nationalists, who seek an intellectual basis for their values and find it in the rock-solid certainty of an ideology characterized by an ethic of individualistic, leave-me-alone, I-can-do-it-myself sufficiency. These disaffected Republicans know the surface of libertarianism; the details, which are hinted at by Stossel’s review and expressed in greater detail by virtually unknown contemporary writers like Virginia Postrel (”The Future and Its Enemies”) and others tend to make our neo-libertarian very uncomfortable.

You see, it’s one thing if “they” lose their house because they violated the laws of the market; it’s quite another if “I” lose my job because my employer can import a Filipino who will work for a quarter of what I was making. Well, to the real libertarian the second example is just as much the laws of the market as the first, so too bad.

These two posts bring up important issues about right-wing libertarians. Too many libertarians are oblivious to the classical liberal roots of libertarianism and too few understand that libertarianism isn’t inherently conservative. There is nothing about the libertarian world view that requires a person to be for conservative ideology such as pro-capitalism, and yet libertarianism is entirely against most of the central positions of mainstream conservatism (nationalism, drug prohibition, and using the federal government to regulate marriage and abortions).

Libertarianism could be a powerful movement if libertarians didn’t make it into a partisan movement and didn’t make into class war. Libertarianism shouldn’t be just for rich white conservatives. If libertarianism doesn’t fight for the rights of all and doesn’t fight for that which oppresses freedom, then can it even genuinely be considered libertarian?

Liberal and even socialist libertarians exist, but you wouldn’t know that by listening to the libertarians from right-wing think tanks and Fox News. Libertarianism began as a socialist workers movement in Europe, but you wouldn’t know that by listening to the rich white conservatives who control the libertarian message. I’d love to see a big tent libertarianism. Until that happens, it’s unlikely there will be a third party that can challenge the two party system.

Republicans Support Big Government… just as long as Republicans are in power

This post relates to the post right before this one (Tea Party: prejudiced against marginalized groups?).

It’s not that these conservatives don’t trust government. What they trust is government when it serves their own interests and the interests of capitalism. But not when government serves the interests of the underprivileged working class. And not when government serves the average American by regulating the excesses of Wall Street.

I remember a media person (probably Cenk Uygur) commenting that the only time bipartisanship happens is when Democrats agree with Republicans. However, the only principle Republicans stand by is that they refuse to cooperate in almost any bipartisan effort. This data seems to support that in that it shows that Democrats are the only party willing to be fair in both support and criticism.

(As an interesting side note, I just heard reported of a poll that appears to show Tea Party supporters have more favorable ratings of George W. Bush and the Republican party than even those who fully identify as Republicans. That seems to fit into this data since the problems the Tea Party complains about mostly began under Bush’s administration: Wall Street dishonesty, economic downturn, bank bailouts, trampling on Constitutional rights including the seizing of legally owned guns in Washington, DC.)

My favorite comment to the above video:

FirstAmongNerds Wayne’s claim that the government is as much to blame for this catastrophe as Wall Street is like claiming police are as much to blame for rape as rapists. “That rapist might have raped me, but the police consciously assisted by not being in the vicinity by chance at the time of the rape.” The government did a terrible job regulating Wall Street, but the moral onus lies with Wall Street to not intentionally fuck over their investors.

http://firedoglake.com/2010/04/19/new-pew-poll-republicans-only-skeptical-of-government-when-democrats-are-in-charge/

Look at those numbers. Democrats are about as trusting of Barack Obama’s administration (33%) than they were of Ronald Reagan’s (34%). Compare that to Republicans, who are supposedly wary of government, out of principle. Nope. When there’s a guy with an “R” next to his name at 1600 Pennsylvania, they just completely toss that out the window.

What’s going on here?

One, Republicans are simply more authoritarian than Democrats. For all their talk about individual liberty and personal freedom, they’re ready and eager to goose-step behind whatever Republican Daddy figure that comes along. Think back at the cottage industry of sickeningly fawning books about Bush during his first term and you get the picture. This is why right-wingers saw black helicopters in the skies when Clinton was President, but cheered on every egregious executive overreach — from domestic spying to torture — when Bush was at the helm.

Paraphrasing Truman, Republicans have leaders and Democrats have bosses.

It’s also pretty self-evident from these results that a Democratic President trying to appeal to Republican (or Teabagger) voters is completely wasting his time. So Barack Obama can escalate in Afghanistan and cut taxes and he’s still considered a communist pacifist by the right.

Finally, look at the steady decline of trust in government among Independents. That’s the result of 30+ years of “government is the problem” Reaganism. The Democrats and Barack Obama must make an affirmative case for government or this trend will continue.

The party of “government sucks — vote for us” is still winning the messaging war.

http://people-press.org/report/606/trust-in-government

First, there is considerable evidence that distrust of government is strongly connected to how people feel about the overall state of the nation. […] The recent downward trend in trust in government began in the fall of 2008, when public satisfaction plunged amid the financial crisis. […]

A second element is presidential politics. Trust in government is typically higher among members of the party that controls the White House than among members of the “out” party. However, Republicans’ views of government change more dramatically, depending on which party holds power, than do Democrats’. Republicans are more trusting of government when the GOP holds power than Democrats are when the Democrats are in charge. […]

A third factor is that a particular subgroup of independents, who are financially pressed, chronically distrustful of government and who typically lean to the Republican Party, appears to be especially angry today. Pew political typology surveys in the past have labeled these individuals as “disaffecteds.” This group may explain, in part, why at least as many Republican-leaning independents (37%) as conservative Republicans (32%) say they are angry with the government. And identical percentages of Republican-leaning independents and conservative Republicans (53% each) say they agree with the Tea Party movement.

Finally, record discontent with Congress – and dim views of elected officials generally – have poisoned the well for trust in the federal government. Undoubtedly, this has contributed to growing discontent with government even among groups who are generally more positive about it, such as Democrats. […]

A desire for smaller government is particularly evident since Barack Obama took office. In four surveys over the past year, about half have consistently said they would rather have a smaller government with fewer services, while about 40% have consistently preferred a bigger government providing more services. In October 2008, shortly before the presidential election the public was evenly divided on this issue (42% smaller government, 43% bigger government). […]

While the public is wary of too much government involvement with the economy, it suspends that concern when it comes to stricter regulation of major financial companies. A clear majority (61%) says it is a good idea for the government to more strictly regulate the way major financial companies do business, which is virtually unchanged from last April (60%).

Partisan Politics

Here is a paper that is interesting.  Some people like to argue that politics doesn’t really change, but this is evidence that there are genuine shifts.
 
 
Abstract:
Partisan voting is back. Compared to the strong parties of yesteryear, today’s partisanship is more strongly based on left/right ideological concerns. This trend has led to an increase in rationalization and, therefore, a weakened role for retrospection. Voters are less willing to vote based on past performance but more willing to offer evaluations that, even if untrue, rationalize their partisan predispositions and vote choices. This has consequences for the craft of election forecasting and the analysis of survey response.
 
I’m a major critic of partisanship and it’s relationship to the defunct two-party system.  To paraphrase what a former resident of a Nazi concentration camp once said, “If they give you two choices, always pick the third.”  If you find research on politics and personality interesting, I noticed that Gregory A. Huber has a nice page of research papers including some about partisanship.