Under the Tea Party veneer

Tea Party support for Santorum tears off the “small-government” mask and reveals the John Birch Society face beneath.

The purported small-government libertarianism of the Tea Party was always a fairly thin veneer over its John Birch Society core.  Now some libertarians are finding that out; Tea Party voters are going for Santorum over Romney. If Santorum actually becomes the Republican nominee – still a long shot, but no longer a far fetch – we’ll discover what fraction of the glibertarian commentariat actually prefers personal liberty and Enlightenment values to looser regulations on polluting companies and lower taxes on the rich. Damned few, I’ll warrant.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com

20 thoughts on “Under the Tea Party veneer”

  1. You do realize, don’t you, that libertarians regard economic liberty as being part of personal liberty? And quite often reason that, with money, you can easily evade most social legislation, but that if you’re poor, you’re just flat out screwed?

    This leads a lot of libertarians to prioritize economic over ‘social’ liberty.

    I’d also point out that it’s only by excluding gun control from social issues that you can claim Romney is more in favor of personal liberty than Santorum. Romney is a gun controler, Santorum not, that means Santorum is more in favor of individual liberty than Romney in that area.

    1. Why not go the other way – prioritize social liberty higher. Why should it be that the rich have vastly more rights than the poor? I’m not so utopian to think it’s possible to eliminate all differences. But why make it worse?

      And guns are not liberty – they are a means to protect liberty, but by no means the only way.
      Guns don’t have liberty: people have liberty.

      1. I think I explained why: If you’re poor, you can’t exercise even the liberties you theoretically have, while if you’ve got money, you can frequently exercise the liberties you theoretically don’t have.

        And among the liberties people have, is liberty with regards to guns. Which does count as a personal liberty, even if a lot of folks on the left don’t like it.

        1. Liberty ‘with regards to guns’ is analogous to Liberty ‘with regards to frying pans’
          I’m in favor of both, as long as it’s not infringing on the liberties of others by it’s use.

          I took your first point as saying that the rich have the (lower case) liberty to ignore laws because they can evade them with money.
          I prefer a Liberty less based in feudalism.

          1. So do I, but I’ll take what I can get.

            My basic point is that, lacking candidates who don’t want to screw up SOME part of my life, I have to prioritize the parts of my life I want the government attempting to screw up. The government is much better equipped to screw up the economy, and make me poorer, (Your guy Obama has demonstrated that quite well!) than it is equipped to mess with, say, my bedroom activities. It’s better equipped to attack 2nd amendment rights than, say, the availability of birth control.

            Such are the considerations of the libertarian voter in the American political system.

          2. @Brett:

            Obama has made you poorer? How so? By screwing up the economy? As I recall the economy was even more screwed up when he took office. Those were tough times for me – I had to quit my job of ten years at a company I liked working for and take another job (which I ended up liking even more, so it all worked out) to avoid a pay and benefits cut that was going to amount to 20%. I was extremely fortunate that the new job opportunity came along for me at just the right time, but where I would otherwise had been able to negotiate a raise to stay put or a sweeter deal to make the move (I effectively got a 50% raise last time I changed employers after a short bidding war), this time I had to settle for a lateral move. Since Obama took office, I’ve been getting a significant tax break that I didn’t get before (schedule M), and my take-home pay has gone up despite the fact that raises are frozen (I haven’t seen one in over five years across two employers and two presidential administrations) due to the slow economy.

            Don’t get me wrong, Obama isn’t “my guy”. I didn’t vote for him last time and won’t be this time. I just think “screwing up the economy” is a weak argument to try to attack Obama with.
            Now that I think of it, the positive economic conditions that fostered the bidding war between companies competing for me in 2000 was right after eight years of… Oh I forget, now whose administration was that?

            I’ve never understood how conservatives have managed to convince so many people that their policies are better for the economy, when they have consistently demonstrated the opposite.

          3. @Brett – ok those are your fears, whether grounded or not.
            Perhaps you can make the analogy as to why minorities tend to vote D. They have experienced a different slice of govt. interference than you have. (or at least perceive it that way.)

          4. Oh come now, Freeman. Brett’s already made his mind up that the man born in Honolulu, Nigeria has dreadfully screwed up the economy. Don’t confuse him with facts.

          5. Freeman, probably one of the most fundamental factors explaining the lousy economy we have right now is the rapidly increasing cost of energy; Energy costs go into everything. Am I mistaken that the Obama administration persisted with a Gulf drilling moratorium in the teeth of adverse legal procedings? That he has shut down the Keystone pipeline, which wasn’t just going to bring Canadian oil here, (rather than to China!) but also was needed to get stranded oil in parts of the US to market?

            Your guy is deliberately inflating the cost of energy, for ideological reasons. I call it the “bonsai” economy: It may be growing at a glacial pace, but he’s shaping it into little model of what he wants it to look like.

          6. Brett,

            What “rapidly increasing cost of energy”? You mean rapidly increasing as in less costly than it was during W’s second term? You don’t remember gasoline prices well over $4/gallon?

            Gulf drilling moratorium? Really? Sure, that affected oil supply sooooo much more than the Deepwater Horizon disaster. I see now how it’s all Obama’s fault. Certainly a moratorium for safety compliance review was imprudent since we have discovered that BP and Haliburton had such exemplary records in that regard. And no doubt it was terribly wrong to postpone a permit for a pipeline that is proposed to cross the aquifer that supplies nearly the entire midwestern United States and supports a good chunk of the food we all eat. What could possibly go wrong? There’s the resemblance to corn ethanol, in that the oil for that pipeline is extracted through a very energy-intensive and resource-hungry process that is terribly inefficient, but no, how could the increase in supply of expensive inefficiently-produced oil fail to halt the inflation of energy prices?

            Your guy is deliberately inflating the cost of energy

            You mean like it was W’s fault when Enron “deliberately inflat[ed] the cost of energy” all over the West coast because he happened to be president at the time (or was it because of his association with “Kenny-boy” Lay)? Now that was some energy cost inflation. You seem to assert some abnormal level of energy cost inflation during the Obama administration that I’m just not seeing, especially when compared to the administration that came before it.

            BTW: I thought I already covered the “Obama’s not my guy” thing. I’m not defending Obama, I’m defending facts as I see and experience them. (Sorry, Dennis, I just can’t help myself!)

    2. Brett Bellmore says:

      “You do realize, don’t you, that libertarians regard economic liberty as being part of personal liberty? And quite often reason that, with money, you can easily evade most social legislation, but that if you’re poor, you’re just flat out screwed? ”

      I agree – in the end, the libertarian movement is a bunch of white guys figuring that if they get rich, they’ll be fine, and everybody else can suck on it.

      Although it is funny to watch Brett ‘Libertarian’ Bellmore slide his limited-government beliefs in and out of his pocket so quickly.

    3. Interestingly enough, this is also part of why Martin King moved from civil rights to human rights (in the words of the book I’m now reading, which is consistent with the rest of my knowledge about his career) and specifically toward economic justice (as he, not Barry Goldwater, understood it).

  2. I am all for liberty, and a proud long-time card-carrying member of the ACLU. I also recognize that life in any reasonably modern society — even more than most human societies — involves complex, shifting trade-offs between personal liberty and the needs of well-functioning society. (This country is generally towards the personal-liberty end of the spectrum — but is is indeed complex and always getting more so.) My conclusion is that the more strongly one insists on defining oneself as libertarian, the more likely that person is to belong to at least one of a few unfortunate categories: out of touch with that fundamental and unavoidable reality, lusting for even-if-destructive short-term tax cuts but seeking ideological cover, or just badly confused. And yes, most libertarians will either vote for the nanny-state Republican or sit out the two-party election. Tax cuts!

  3. Mark I see a sharper knife that rips right at the seams of the GOP’s double helix:

    The god-hating Ayn Rand Glibs having to vote for Santorum The Fundy.
    Most Glibs are smart enough to realize science has made their life enormously better.
    And that it is an economic driver for their Galtian supermen.
    Bellmore is one such example.

    Now along comes Holy roller Rick, the anti-Scientist’s champion.
    His main boast? He was first among the candidates to realize global warming is a hoax.
    I see the Glibs writing in Weird Uncle Randi before they cast a vote for that pious schmeckel…

    1. “Bellmore is one such example.”

      No, Brett is the guy who has no problem with right-wing intrusive government at all, so long as it doesn’t appear to bite him personally.

  4. The Randbots are just reactionaries who want a philosophical veneer on their contempt for the lower orders. Charles Murray is a prime example of this.
    They’ll vote for a social regressive, because they only care about “property rights”, and religion is good to keep the rabble content. If they need birth control or dope, they can always get it.

  5. Mark is under a misapprehension. Santorum will not infringe “personal liberty and Enlightenment values” — of the rich. Santorum might support all kinds of Saudi-style social legislation. But note I said “Saudi”, not “Talebanic.” I can’t see Little Ricky applying his proscriptions to the wealthy and powerful. With President Ricky, you might see abortion become illegal, for instance. But you won’t see mandatory urinalysis of all women leaving the country for a short vacation. Or maybe you will, but it will not apply to trusted travelers, or whatever they call them.

    1. I think scrooge has it, at least in the imagination of the propertarian commentariat. The real President Santorum might disappoint them, but the one in their heads won’t do anything that might impinge on rich white men. Libertarians are like a dog ferociously chasing a car in the secure knowledge that they’ll never catch it and have to figure out what to do then.

  6. The JBS still exists, and I expect they’ll be a lot more hostile to Santorum than they are to Ron Paul.

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