Monday, October 02, 2006

Kos at Cato Unbound: Libertarian Democrats

Markos Moulitsas Zuniga, founder of my fave hangout, DailyKos, is now making the case for the libertarian Democrat.

A caveat: I'm a little mistrustful of libertarians, as all too many of them seem to be, in the words of one Kossack, "Repubicans who like to smoke dope and fuck." Others are conservatives who adopt the libertarian label because it seems edgier and less scary than "Republican" or "conservative." Tucker Carlson and Mary Matalin both have called themselves libertarians, but if you believe them, I've got property on Mars to sell you. Matalin in particular is a stooge for the big-government BushCo--i.e., NOT a libertarian AT ALL.

There's also the blind spot that some libertarians have regarding big business. They deplore a social welfare state but have very little to say about government subsidies to big business. They pooh-pooh environmental laws as impediments to the free market, yet they forget that why we have those laws in the first place (can you say Love Canal, folks?). Moreover, they seem unconcerned with corporate responsibility and seem to treat the free market as a magic wand of sorts--which it certainly isn't. Small wonder that libertarianism has been described as "the Marxism of the right."

But does it necessarily have to be? There's also a lot to respect about libertarianism--the emphasis on civil liberties, the belief that government should stay out of people's private lives, the sincere love for the nation's founding principles.

But that said, why do so many libertarians turn a blind eye to BushCo's decidedly un-libertarian policies. Ballooning government? Check. Government intrusion? Check. If you are a libertarian living in America today, the Republican-led government is NOT your friend. Period!

But can libertarians find kindred spirits in the Democratic party? My believe is yes. I'm speaking as a pro-choice, pro-gay marriage, pro-drug legalization liberal Democrat who belives in fiscal restraint and believes people should have the right to carry guns for protection and hunting (but still believes in background checks). Plus, plenty of libertarians absolutely loathe Bushco and all it stands for. See for more. Some of the writers are plain wacky, but you'll also find excellent articles by Pentagon whistleblower Karen Kwiatkowski.

Kos argues that an unregulated market isn't truly a free one:
There is also no individual freedom if corporations aren’t forced to provide the kind of accountability necessary to ensure we make proper purchasing or investment decisions. For example, public corporations are regulated to ensure that investors have accurate data upon which to base their trading decisions. If investors can’t trust the information given by corporations, the stock markets couldn’t function. If the stock markets couldn’t function, our current market system would collapse. Matters such as deceptive advertising, labeling, and some safety regulations are also important. Does anyone doubt that requiring food companies to label ingredients and nutritional data doesn’t enhance our liberties by giving us the information we need to make informed decisions?

On the flip side, much of what’s known as “corporate welfare” is not designed to protect personal liberties. Rather it rewards inefficiencies in the market and the politically connected. Intellectual property law protections, constantly extended at the behest of Walt Disney in service to its perpetual Mickey copyright, have created a corporate stranglehold over information in an era where information is currency. Patent law allows companies like Amazon to patent simple and obvious “business processes” like “one-click shopping,” which they protect with armies of lawyers and deep pockets. In the non-virtual sphere, cities use eminent domain to strip property owners of their rights on behalf of private developers.

A libertarian might get the willies at the very thought of government playing a role in how a company operates. There is, however, a difference between corporate welfare and laws ensuring that corporations can't pollute the local rivers.

That said, there's definitely a libertarian left and a wave of new Democrats who believe in efficient government, fiscal restraint, and--gasp!--even the right to keep and bear arms. Howard Dean, after all, balanced Vermont's budget as governor and received an A from the National Rifle Association. Kos argues that it's in the Rocky Mountains where libertarian-leaning Democrats are making inroads. Examples are Montana governor Brian Schweitzer and Montana Senate candidate Jon Tester.

Libertarians are fervent believers in the Second Amendment, and Montana's Democrats have actively courted the state's hunters and fishers. A Democratic candidate should support responsible gun use and recognize that not all gun owners are militia-loving fanatics. In fact, as Kos points out: "The Mountain West, in particular, has a individualistic libertarian streak that has been utterly betrayed by the governing Republicans. State legislatures in Alaska and Montana proudly voted to defy the PATRIOT Act." He adds that "many traditionally Republican voters simply want to live their lives in peace, without undue meddling from unaccountable multinationals or the government."

This seems like more of a moderate libertarian view, rather than a strict, doctrinaire perspective. It would be intersting to have a dialogue between
libertarians and progressives, because there is definitely common ground there.