Below The Beltway

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Libertarian Democrats ?

by @ 10:21 am on December 17, 2005. Filed under General

David Friedman suggests that the Democratic Party could find electoral success in trying to steal the votes of libertarian-leaning Republicans away from the GOP.

As Friedman points out, libertarian Republicans and the Democratic Party find themselves in equally unfortunate positions.

Libertarians still tend to identify with the Republican party. Save for historical reasons, it is hard to see why. The current administration, despite its free market rhetoric, has been no better–arguably worse–than its predecessor on economic issues. Its policy on public schooling, the largest governent run industry in the U.S., has been a push towards more central control, not less. Its support for free trade has been at best intermittant. Reductions in taxes have been matched by increases in government spending, increasing, not shrinking, the real size and cost of government. It has been strikingly bad on civil liberties. Its Supreme Court nominees have not been notably sympathetic to libertarian views of the law. Libertarians disagree among themselves on foreign policy, but many support a generally non-interventionist approach and so find themselves unhappy with the Iraq war.

The Democrats have problems too. While things have been looking up for them recently, their ideological coalition has been losing strength for decades, leaving them in danger of long term minority status.

Not only has the ideologoical coalition that holds the Democratic Party together been losing strength, but the party itself is increasingly identified with the most radical extremes of that coalition. Howard Dean as party chairman ? Say what you will about the Clinton Administration, but at least the Democratic Leadership Council types he brought into power with him were far more moderate than the strange former Governor of Vermont.

The solution for both groups, Friedman suggests, is for the Democratic party to attract libertarian-minded Republicans by co-opting the GOP’s pro-market message. The likelihood of this happening is, it seems, pretty low given the fact that the Democratic Party is heavily depending on labor unions and activists for its support. Coming out for lower taxes, school choice, private Social Security accounts, and other pro-market reforms is just not something we’re ever likely to see from the party of Nancy Pelosi and Hillary Clinton, and Friedman admits that.

One thing that Friedman suggests is intriguing, though:

I think I have an answer. In 2004, Montana went for Bush by a sizable margin. It also voted in medical marijuana, by an even larger margin. Legalizing medical marijuana is a policy popular with libertarians, acceptable to Democrats, and opposed by the current administration.

At the very least, prominent Democrats should come out in favor of the federal government respecting state medical marijuana laws, as it has so far refused to do. Better yet, let them propose a federal medical marijuana law. That will send a signal to a considerable number of voters that, at least on this issue, one of the parties is finally on their side. It would be a beginning.

I can’t say that a Democrat who did this but still advocated the economic and social policies that his party stands for would have much of a chance of getting my vote, but it would be nice to see a major party challenging the so-called wisdom of the War on Drugs.

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