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The Conservative Takeover of the Libertarian Party

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The recent selection of Bob Barr as the presidential nominee by the Libertarian Party (LP) at it’s convention in Denver has caused much controversy. Most moderates are happy, most radicals are upset, some to the point of leaving the party. Before addressing the future of the LP let’s take a look at some of the troubling aspects of Mr. Barr’s conservatism.

One of the best gauges of his thinking is to be found at his sidekick, Richard Viguerie’s, website The first thing one notices is that the website isn’t titled as would befit a website of those seeking to lead the LP. Delving a little deeper one finds this page explaining their view of conservatism. While they make many good points they seem to take a very liberal vs. conservative or Republican vs. Democrat point of view. One gets the sense that they define conservative as anti-liberal. Libertarians don’t see themselves as standing with conservatives against liberals.

This page then goes on to define different kinds of conservatives. Libertarians are included with this short description:

Libertarian conservatives seek to reduce the size, cost, and intrusiveness of government. They say to bureaucrats and politicians:
"Leave us alone!" and "Mind your own business!" Libertarians proudly refuse to recognize political reality. But, within the ranks of conservatives, libertarianism serves a necessary and critical function: it is the brake in the train of conservatism. By libertarian conservative standards, every proposal must be measured as to whether it will ultimately strengthen or weaken Big Government. Ronald Reagan referred to libertarianism as "the heart of conservatism."
Somehow this libertarian doesn’t see libertarianism as part of the conservative movement, but a movement of its own. Conservatives embrace government to one degree or another while libertarians reject government to varying degrees. This is a crucial difference.

The most disturbing part of Viguerie’s website is the inclusion of neoconservatives in their coalition:

Neoconservatives are often former liberals and democratic socialists who have acknowledged the failure of liberalism and socialism to solve society’s problems, in the sense of the old saying, "A neoconservative is a liberal who's been mugged." Most older neoconservatives are former members of the branch of liberalism and democratic socialism associated with New York intellectuals; they rebelled against policies that condoned or promoted Communism.
Neoconservatives tend to emphasize scientific analysis of the success or failure of government programs – for example, by statistical studies of whether "welfare," "affirmative action" discrimination, broad restrictions on gun ownership, and other policies actually improve the lives of the people they are supposed to help. They believe the U.S. should play a leading role in world affairs, especially in defense of beleaguered democracies such as Israel. They favor strong action to promote the spread of democracy in the world, noting that constitutional democracies rarely – or, by some measures, never – fight wars against each other. (In recent years, many critics of the Bush Administration have used the term "neoconservative" to refer to anyone who supported the Iraq War and related endeavors.)
If anything, this long description understates the neoconservative infatuation with big government and empire. As Irving Krystal wrote in "The Neoconservative Persuasion", "Neocons do not feel that kind of alarm or anxiety about the growth of the state in the past century, seeing it as natural, indeed inevitable." This is just socialism under another name. The mere fact that they consider neocons to be conservatives and worthy of being associated with shows that they don’t get it. How anyone thinks libertarians are supposed to live in the same big tent with neocons is incomprehensible, there is absolutely no place in the LP for them. Recovering neocons are welcome in the party to learn about our philosophy, but not to lead it.

That said, the LP should welcome libertarian leaning conservatives. They should be the minority though. It should be the conservatives holding their noses about libertarian positions they don’t like when supporting our candidates. That the situation is now reversed and libertarians have to hold their noses about many of Mr. Barr’s positions is unacceptable.

These major policy positions I refer to are:

First, Mr. Barr’s support for a national sales tax. While his call for the end of the income tax and the repeal of the 16th Amendment are great, his call for a replacement tax makes this a big shell game. If Mr. Barr is truly an advocate of less government why does he think the revenue lost by ending the income tax needs to be replaced?

Second, the war on drugs. Putting aside Mr. Barr’s past transgressions, and they are many, he has only called for a partial end to this, namely legalizing marijuana.

This leads to the 3rd area of disagreement, his call for stepped up interdiction of drugs in South America. (On May, 28, 2008 the article "
No Way To Treat a Friend" was removed from the BobBarr08 website, it can still be found here.) Mr. Barr may call for a non interventionist foreign policy on his website, but that is contradicted by the above.

What’s a libertarian to do? Some, such as
Christine Smith, have chosen to leave the LP. With all due respect I must disagree with her point of view and hope that she reconsiders. Now is not the time to abandon the battle. Now is the time for radical libertarians to stay with or return to the LP.

The conservatives worked long and hard to get where they are now in the party. We must do the same to win it back. That’s the only way the LP will ever be libertarian again.

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Darren Wolfe is the former Eastern Vice Chair of the Libertarian Party of Pennsylvania. He presently blogs as the International Libertarian His articles have also appeared in, (more...)

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