“Conservative gathering, liberal dose of pessimism,” was the headline over a Mar. 28 story on the previous night's panel hosted by Face the State, America's Future Foundation, and the Independence Institute. The Rocky's reporter, who was sitting to my right, not laughing while feverously jotting notes, did a passable job describing the occasion. The article, however, didn’t quite capture the feel of the event. The venue was elegant, the food and wine quite tasty. The speakers, of which four (including the moderator) were libertarian and one lone conservative, bantered about the libertarian-social conservative rift and its toll on the party.
One of the libertarians, Independence Institute’s Jon Caldara, identified Republican disintegration along with liberal Democrats' solidarity, cash, and smarts, as the reasons the West was lost. Even more insightful was his observation that big-government Republicans -- be they of the blueblooded country club variety, the big spending, entitlement expanding “compassionate” variety, or the give me taxpayer money for my business/chamber of commerce/organization/pet project variety -- are the real enemy of conservatism, not social conservatives. I hope other libertarians were listening.
I think what surprised me about the event is just how much antipathy libertarians have for social conservatives. That might be too strong of a characterization but there seemed to be an unkind edge in some of the humor. As a person who is both a fiscal and social conservative I felt a little battered. Nevertheless, I want to help heal the breach. And so here’s a little food for thought for my libertarian friends.
Stereotypes: not helpful. Evoking Jerry Falwell as a typical social conservative is not useful. A) He’s deceased. B) Though a player two decades ago, he’s been largely irrelevant since. A disheveled, government-phobic, dental-challenged libertarian from a fortified bunker in Montana probably has little in common with you, so I won’t conjure that image in every single speech and debate.
Secondly, on our differences (gay marriage and drug legalization just to pick two), I actually have some logical reasons for my beliefs. We could discuss them and possibly find common ground or at least an appreciation for each other's reasons.
Calling me a bigot who wants to deprive people of civil rights isn’t exactly a thoughtful response to my concerns about the impact of gay marriage. My primary objection to same-sex marriage is a libertarian one – it suppresses dissenting views. The state of Massachusetts shut down a Catholic adoption agency because it did not adopt to same-sex couples (the agency does not even receive government money). The same thing has happened in England. In Colorado, gay couples are free to call themselves "married," live together, have children, etc. Their status is recognized by those who agree with their lifestyle. State intervention in favor of these unions would force anyone who does not agree to shut down their business or organization. That doesn’t sound like freedom to me.
On drug legalization, I sympathize with cancer victims and believe strongly that if marijuana helps them they should have as much of it as they need. Let’s not be naïve. The average pot smoker is not a terminally ill cancer patient or a responsible yuppie couple who smoke occasionally in the privacy of their own home after the kids are tucked in. It’s the guy who is unemployed or underemployed who uses me, the taxpayer, as his health insurance provider. Even though he might be able to handle working behind the 7-Eleven counter, his counterpart on meth is probably a little too wired and wild-eyed for customer service. This guy would rather break into my house and steal my stuff to pay for his habit.
How much of my taxpayer money goes to health care, food, housing, treatment programs, and other services for potheads, meth addicts, junkies and crackheads? We sure need more of these guys, and legalization would guarantee it. I’m happy to have a civil debate about the impact of legalization of drugs or vice generally on civilization if you promise not to drag cancer patients and hemp farmers (hemp is used to make rope, by the way) into it.
Yes, I’m being cheeky but the point is that people in this coalition are going to have differences based on real concerns. Conceit, stereotyping, and bitterness are not productive. We need each other. If we only want to work with people with whom we agree 100% of the time, it’s going to be a small crowd, powerless against the proponents of big government control.
The Cato Institute speaker that night predicted a mass of libertarians going over to Obama. Great idea if you want to work with people who are diametrically opposed to everything you’ve worked for all your life. National health care, high taxes, adding a gazillion more government programs to an already behemoth federal government – yep, that’s compatible with libertarian thought.
If you want to jump ship out of spite, you might end up in the water with the sharks. Or, we can work together. Your call.
Editor: See also Jessica Corry's followup report from the same evening.