Conservatives, Libertarians, and Purity Tests: Can These Groups Win Without Each Other?

After running across this piece in the Economist today, I was reminded of that timeless adage "You'll attract more flies with honey than with vinegar." That's a woefully good reminder for the Right as Election Day draws nearer.

Plenty of noise has been made in the past few weeks about the abrupt resignation/firing of Dave Weigel from the Washington Post blog "Right Now." I have been a defender of Weigel's, in large part because I think people's expectations of Weigel were too high - and that's not to disparage Weigel at all, whose work I have followed for a couple of years. The problem was, in my view, that lots of activists expected him to counter Ezra Klein's "Wonk Book" with an editorial style, using his platform at the Post to propel the Tea Party to the revery where so many believed it belonged. Another part of the problem is that, as Dan Gainor at the Media Research Center notes, the Post was never clear about why it had hired Weigel in the first place. Reporting? Check. Opinion? Maybe? I still think Weigel does a good job of reporting, and if he's guilty of anything, it's a preoccupation with man-bites-dog narratives. Aside from all that, I don't have much to add to the gallons of punditry sloshing around the Internet about Weigel-gate.

The reason I bring Weigel's short-lived stint at the Post back up for discussion is that the reaction from the activist community to Weigel's resignation - particularly on Twitter - was pretty vicious, with lots of "Good riddance" and "we told you so." Then came the announcement that Weigel would be a paid MSNBC contributor on Countdown with Keith Olbermann - and activists were once again a-Twitter with disgust. Thankfully there was an equivalent outpouring of support for Weigel. I disagree with Keith Olbermann frequently, particularly when it comes to his sneering punditry and progressive worldview. I appreciate that he was the first (and for a long time only) mainstream media personality to cover the devastating flooding in my hometown of Nashville earlier this year, and he and I share in New York Yankees fan-dom. But why the Weigel witch-hunt on the Right?

And then it hit me: the Right and center-right are still obsessed with (plagued by?) litmus tests that, unchecked, can be impossible to pass. And not normal litmus tests either - sure, nobody wants to see another John McCain presidential campaign - I mean the conservative base is so energized right now that it has become bloodthirsty, and it's beginning to feed on itself. Long-time allies to conservatives - the libertarians - have begun to take notice.

I urge everyone to check out this written exchange between Cato Institute's Brink Lindsey, AEI/National Review Online's Jonah Goldberg, and FreedomWorks' Matt Kibbe, a debate on where libertarians belong on the 21st century ideological spectrum, and how they can, should, and might play in the activist/political component of the Tea Party movement. Romantic libertarians like yours truly hope wistfully one day to inform a more rigorous social policy agenda - one that actually gets government out of people's lives, including their marriages and sex lives - to complement existing tenets of economic freedom upon which, for the most part, everyone right-of-center seems to reaching consensus. But because of these purity tests, many libertarians worry that the emergence of centrist rhetoric at Tea Party rallies is nothing more than a ruse to grab handfuls of votes on Election Day 2010 and 2012, and then Big Government conservatism does us all in - again.

I am sympathetic to Brink Lindsey's point in this respect. Libertarians - who often sacrifice opportunities to "get involved" in lieu of safeguarding transcendent philosophical values for the sake of practical virtue - should not compromise their core beliefs just because Sarah Palin said we need less government and more personal responsibility. But I also think Matt Kibbe makes great points - the Tea Party movement is as fascinating a paradigm shift in American politics as I will likely ever see in my lifetime. It has unbundled the Left almost completely, who has tried to use every tool at its disposal - from race-baiting in formal media outlets to unscientific opinion polling - to couch the Tea Party movement as garden-variety Republican, and quintessentially racist, xenophobic, and homophobic. Kibbe insists that many Tea Partiers don't know where to place themselves on an ideological scale, and notes that many have never been involved in political discourse before now. This groundswell provides libertarians with that romantic opportunity to inform the policy debate - especially issues like gay marriage, which Tea Party groups support, and like Kibbe, I think it's hasty to accept Lindsey's premise with open arms. So Lindsey's libertarian protectionism can be just as dangerous and self-defeating as the Gainor conservative witch-hunts.

The Tea Party movement is still today very fragile, despite the noise the movement has made and the support it has drummed up. If libertarians and conservatives can agree about anything, it's opposition to power-drunk Democrats; it's probably best that everyone focus on that for now, instead of running reckless with purity tests, and when Republicans win, it will be up to them to follow through on promises they're making to people getting involved for the first time. Those people don't know where they lie on the ideological spectrum, but they know that the government is screwing them.


Your rating: None Average: 4 (1 vote)



Because, if there are real libertarian veiws among Tea Partiers, which I tend to doubt for the most part, they'll be quickly crushed the next time the Republicans are in power.  What happened the last couple times?  Massive increase in the size of government paid for by debt while claiming the fantasy that tax cuts almost exclusively for the wealthy (sources of political funding) will increase revenue and pay for the increase in government size and spending.

As a bonus, they can enjoy further increases in secret government surveillance and legistlation of social behavior.

Surveillance, bigger, more intrusive government, massive debt.  All sounds very enticing to a libertarian...

That's pretty close to Brink Lindsey's thesis

 Seriously, read the three-way debate piece I linked here.


I agree with much of his analysis, though in his intro he holds up the time of Reagan as part of the good old days when Republican policies were at least closer to liberatarian ideals.  That's mostly a myth driven by the hagiography of Reagan on the modern right, and it's curious Lindsey holds that view given the rest of his argument.  Yes Reagan cut taxes, but he, like GWB, massively increased the size of government and for the most part was closer to modern GOP views on very intrusive government limits of social freedom and disregard for civil liberties than he was to any sort of libertarian ideal.

Americans are energized, not just Republicans or Tea Partiers

You guys have been reading too much Frum, Goldberg, Weigel stuff, you cannot grasp the "grass roots Majority opinions" that makes up the Tea Party movement.....hell, you Squirrels can't even count 'em when they show up a million strong in DC.

You do come close to reality when you say.... "Tea Partiers don't know where to place themselves on an ideological scale, and notes that many have never been involved in political discourse before now."

Keep it simple....TP'ers are smart enough to know BHO and Pelosi/Reid ain't working, and we recognize a lying SOB when we hear one. We're looking for what we had, and we're gonna FIRE those who screwed up and took it away from us.

And TV Journalism, Printed Media, Democrats in Congress are in the Cross hairs.
Levin and Palin are selling Books and airtime that covers more truth, justice, and the American way than that which has appeared in the Mainstream Media in the last 5 years of Bush bashing.
We're mad as hell and we're not going to take it anymore. And the 148 odd readers of Weigel or Olbermaniacs 632 viewers ain't gonna stop the Tea Party Tidal wave forming off shore and arriving in November.
The Majority Rules are " ah fixin " to be enforced, along with the Constitution. The Congressional toilet needs a plunger and several flushes to clear out the Socialist Crap.

you Squirrels can't even

you Squirrels can't even count 'em when they show up a million strong in DC.

In case you didn't notice, that march had maybe 50k attendees.  Not that you'd want facts to get in the way of your beliefs...

The Traffic Cams, that the Marchers walked by, tell reality

Nice try, but after some really pissed off Tea partiers took the Traffic Web cam feeds on Pennsylvania avenue (public domain), and counted protestors going thru the Intersection for 2-3 hours......they debunked your "Maybe 50,00"  propaganda number.

Why do you liberals let the Alphabet media play you like a banjo ?  You guys will believe anything Katie Couric or Olbermaniac says, won't you.


I was helping out on that count

It was really a fun time.  Everyone took off their shoes and socks and as people walked by we kept track!  Remember if it ain't smelly then it's not hard work!  The count was actually well over 50,000, we just ran out of fingers and toes! It was so crazy.  The only other problem was that Tom kept double dipping in the Cheeze Whiz fondue.

How many were there ? There were so many that........

DC took away the Web Cam videos access from 9/12 that documented the Tea Party numbers.  They had to support the "10's of thousands" lies by the State run media.   

ITs not nice to document that the Alphabet Media is lying.  

But the Video's and Pictures that circulated thru the Personal E-mails of Americans, documented the Tea Party numbers, and documented the Lies of the Media.   Think about it, One Million Tea partiers sending Pics to their friends, and their friends forwarding Pictures to their friends, hell, I was still getting 9/12 DC pictures in June. 

 Breibart also offered a $ 100,000's to anyone that would Document the "Racists" remarks by Tea Partiers the weekend that Healthcare was passed......he still has his money, and the NAACP is still spreading the undocumented lies about the "Racists" Tea Partiers. 

Thanks for the information.

Thanks for the information. This is a wonderful post!! online criminal justice degree | online certificate

That might sound good to fanatics

...but it doesn't play well to the general public.

Socialist crap?  You really think this is about the ownership of the means of production?

To cast it in different terms, who is more statist?  Who is it that upholds individual rights?  We know that the Right believes in individual responsibility, but do they hold individual rights in equal regard?

That's the base of the hypocrisy in blaming Obama for the oil spill in the Gulf.  Isn't the standard Republican solution that private enterprise is better able to deal with things than the government is?  So, let the people along the Gulf coast deal with that one themselves.  Government has no place attempting to assist.  Government is the problem, not the solution.  Let's get the government out of the way.  Cut taxes and people will go clean up the oil themselves.

Austrian school (Hayek): Do nothing.  Doing anything at all will necessarily create unrealistic expectations and artificial pricing mechanisms.

Monetarist school (Friedman):  Lower interest rates and taxes to induce people to wanted activity.  But when interest rates are next to zero, what then?

Keynesianism:  In periods of economic distress, government activity should replace private activity to an extent to mitigate the losses.

Each one has some element of truth to it, but arguing against mitigating the losses isn't so wise when so many are losing so much.  People want most of all for their government to be effective, regardless of what the particular stance is.

More guns on the street create a safer environment.  We'll see how that one works out in Oakland, now that they're laying off police officers en masse.  But let's drown government in a bathtub and give everyone a tax cut-- as long as they're packing heat, things will be ok.

The Left is no better.  In fact, they are so much worse in a lot of ways.  But the Right has some serious issues, no matter what is going on on the Left.

God only knows why the Right would argue against competence in the public sector.  And I can't for the life of me understand why people would accept that a lack of competence is desirable.  But then, Bush is God, and if only we could expand medicare to include a Part E, everything would be ok-- provided the citizenry relinquishes more of their civil rights in the name of terrorism.  Rather than to say, "The world is sometimes a dangerous place," we want The Authorities to be our mommy and our daddy so that we can show up to an airport an hour (or two) before our flight so that we can watch them dig through a few peoples' luggage.

Sobriety checkpoint, anyone?  Feel safer now that your rights against unreasonable search and seizure have been violated?

When the concerns become consistent, I'll believe it.  Until then, it's just bs.

Nuts count double.

Nuts count double so there were 100,000 people there.