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Opening Arguments

The party's over

It should come as no great shock that people are starting to talk about the breakup of the GOP-libertarian coalition:

Paul's candidacy—which drew the eye-rolling treatment from McCain, Rudolph Giuliani, and “serious” conservatives nationwide—showed just how marginalized libertarianism has become in the party of Barry Goldwater. Paul's lonely apostasy on foreign policy was greeted with hoots of derision on one debate stage after another. His calls for abolishing the Internal Revenue Service and hacking back the federal bureaucracy rolled right off the standard-bearers of a party that retook the House of Representatives in 1994 on a platform of reducing government.

Yet despite raising $30 million, Paul and his limited-government supporters got their clocks cleaned by Huckabee and the social cons, who were treated with much more deference by eventual nominee McCain and the party establishment. Twenty-seven years after Ronald Reagan famously said that “government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem,” the GOP's appetite for rolling back the regulatory state appears as dead as the era of federal budget surpluses. Even former revolutionary Newt Gingrich agrees. “The Republican Party cannot win over time as the permanently angry anti-government party,” he writes in his latest book, Real Change.

I've been at least partly libertarian since high school, and one of the interesting things is how people I knew way back when have complained that I've changed. But I haven't -- the world has changed. When I was in college, liberals against the Vietnam War tended to ally with libertarians. Lately, it's been anti-tax conservatives. Whichever party has had a temporary reason to be anti-government has sought an alliance with libertarian thought.

Today, hardly anybody is really against big government -- different people just want to use it for different things -- so libertarians will unfortunately stay consigned to the fringes. Socialists never got into the mainstream, either, but almost all of their ideas found their way into the Democratic Party platform because their big-government ideas resonated. Libertarians got a few of their ideas into the GOP platform, but only a few. Their limited-government ideas are just too out of fashion these days.



Mon, 04/07/2008 - 9:21am

The GOP has been expanding government at such a clip, with things like the war of choice in Iraq, Medicare expansion, and warrantless wiretapping; I can't really use the old quip of "Government small enough to fit in your bedroom."

If you look at budgets under Republican Presidents, I'm not sure the GOP has given more than lip service to small government in any case. What's it been, like 40 years since a Republican President presided over a balanced budget?