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October 03, 2006

Return of the Libertarian Democrats

Writing in this month's Cato Unbound, Markos lays out the case for Libertarian Democrats -- a socially libertarian, fiscally moderate ideology he's been formulating over the past couple of months. Reading the essay, it would seem we could as easily be talking about Technocratic Democrats, or Silicon Valley voters, or some fraction of the electorate completely driven by upwardly mobile, white collar concerns. His primary examples of the market's magic are how Google outraced Microsoft, and how Indians have ascended to high positions in software development. All good things, but potentially limited in explanatory or predictive potential when you slip down a couple rungs on the economic ladder.

Backing slowly away from the specific instances he cites, Kos's schema seems to be in the positive freedoms model. Lauding the government's role in infrastructure creation and universal K-12, he writes that "[t]his isn’t a question of equality, it’s one of opportunity. Some people will take advantage of those opportunities, and others will not. That will be up to each individual. But without opportunity, there is no freedom." Replying to this, Shakes wonders "Where do issues like the government’s responsibility to provide a social safety net fall into the “Libertarian Democrat” paradigm? What about socialized or universal healthcare?" Going off past writings from Kos, I'd guess that this opportunity-in-service-of-freedom agenda may well expand to include universal health care, more generous pensions, asset building, and other items on the progressive wish list. Which I'm all for. So maybe it's one big happy family

I do wonder, though, how far progressives will really get buying into the demonization of government and the deification of the individual. Kos hits at something important when he approvingly cites a diarist musing that "that corporations are becoming more powerful than governments." If you believe the country lacks appropriate countervailing powers for business, if government is too weak to effectively balance out the interests of corporations and the common good, aligning yourself with an anti-statist ideology that can sneak in social programs under the cover of an "opportunity" agenda may not prove the savviest play.

Indeed, it sounds like what Kos is actually arguing for is a strong government that protects competition and innovation by counterbalancing corporations and ensuring individuals have a range of social insurance programs, educational opportunities, and public goods available to them. It looks to me like it'll make government bigger, though not redundantly or uselessly so, and it will certainly entrust it with greater responsibility. "Libertarian" may be the label du jour, but progressive is much more accurate. And if that is in fact the case, and I'm not misinterpreting Kos at some crucial juncture, then the project he and others should be engaged in is rescuing government from its current rhetorical revilement, not buying into the label and frames of its most determined opponents.

Crossed to Tapped

October 3, 2006 | Permalink


If not universal healthcare, which is now considered part of the workers' remuneration, why not just go for the whole enchilada and go for a guaranteed life?

You have to grab the bull by the horns, Ezra, and not be shy about sying it...."according to their needs".

Posted by: Fred Jones | Oct 3, 2006 12:39:32 PM

I think argument is pitched to the Teddy Roosevelt wing of the Republican party. Real Libertarians seem no longer to think that Bush is interested in either individual freedom or market freedom, but instead in perpetuating a McKinley era crony capitalism. If that's what's happening, you can either rebuild the non-crony elements of the GOP, or ditch it and put your thumb on the scale of the opposition. Considering the Clinton administration was largely on board with "make markets work" and devolution even before (see also "reinventing government" and the sulfate & nitrate markets), it's not a bad move. For those of us who want serious action on health care, you still need "The Libertarian case for Universal Health Care", but that story's been written; it just needs to be made prominent.

Of course, this is still a pitch to upper-middle class professionals who believe markets work and want to make them work. People who say in public they like specific moderate Republicans, but would vote for all but specific conservative Republicans (e.g. Santorum, DeLay, maybe Gingrich, etc.).

Posted by: Nicholas Beaudrot | Oct 3, 2006 12:51:12 PM

In this election cycle -- and, we hope -- in the next, we are going to see the rise of a New Democratic Right. The people coming into the Democratic Party, giving the Democrats hope of a majority are going to be refugees from the Republicans, and more conservative, generally, than the liberal rump of the Democratic Party. They won't be much like the Old Democratic conservatives -- the remnants of southern racism and northern ethnic industrial unionism and Catholic political machines. Libertarianism is likely to be a strong theme among these young, secular realists, and nostalgia for the New Deal may not be such a strong theme.

The Old Democratic Right ended up in corrupt compromises with Republicans. The trick with the New Democratic Right will be creating a modus vivendi that allows the Democratic Party to forge internal compromises between Democratic Left and Right, which result in progressive reforms. Kos is the enemy of conservative bipartisanship, a la Lieberman, and the primary advocate of progressive Democratic partisanship.

If the Democrats gain a presumptive majority, it will be because the corruption, religiosity, incompetence and moral bankruptcy of the Republican Party have driven secular realist conservatives into the Democratic Party. The ability to forge partisan policy compromises will determine whether the Democrats will be able to govern.

Posted by: Bruce Wilder | Oct 3, 2006 12:58:03 PM

kos recently posted that he never understood neighborhood community until he bought an expensive home in berkeley. which is fairly indicative of his elitist blogger view of the world.

but good luck pitching that bs to the masses kos.

Posted by: christian | Oct 3, 2006 1:48:43 PM

Kos wants to be the new DLC, with a slight variation in policy but all the money and establishment connections. He is playing the game very smartly. He is perhaps slightly more progressive than Andy Sullivan.

Posted by: bob mcmanus | Oct 3, 2006 2:31:34 PM

Ezra. Isn't your prediction that republicans are going to maintain their grip on the South and start getting working-class votes on the coasts based on a racist "pro-family" populist economic platform? And, if I remember the article correctly, that that will make it difficult for Democrats to effectively use economic populism as a campaign issue without becoming the party of urban blacks?

If that's so, doesn't Kos' framing work well? Democrats' social liberalism (or libertarianism) will still be popular on the coasts, while the libertarian framing will hopefully appeal to the Great Red Center who Kos is trying to play to. It seems to me a fairly good strategy to counter the changes you forsee in the Republican party, because it take advantage of the somewhat libertarian voters that Republicans will have to leave behind.

Posted by: Sam L. | Oct 3, 2006 4:18:03 PM

Kos is posting a reframing of progressivism which emphasizes its commonalities with libertarianism in order to allow people who have libertarian tendencies to feel as though they have a place under the Big Tent (which they do, but they may not have known that there was a seat being kept for them). That's all.

Posted by: Kimmitt | Oct 3, 2006 7:07:10 PM

I really think Kos is dead wrong.

1) Libertarianism is a straight-up bullshit philosophy, a merging the abdication of social responsibility with the delusion that this abdication leads to free ponies for everyone in the world. Their idea of "freedom" is just the reinscription of already existing power relations. It's stupid, and dangerous.

2) It's not a winning strategy, anyway. Despite the fact that these loonies inexplicably make up 20% of the Internet, they really only make up maybe 2% of the voting population. (They tend to be rich losers, who are massively overrepresented on the Internets). So, even if the Democrats wanted to sell out to a morally empty philosophy in order to win votes, this is the wrong one because the followers of the philosophy won't turn any elections.

If you want to make concessions against principle, then the Petey strategy is the way to go. There are a lot of socially conservative, fiscally liberal people out there, a whole lot more than there are those who swing the other way. I'm not sure what levels of concessions against principle are a) worth the tradeoff and b) politically effective, but that's really neither here nor there in terms of Kos. Going after libertarians is selling out principles with no expected return of any particular value.

Posted by: DivGuy | Oct 3, 2006 7:40:07 PM

DivGuy, what policies has Kos sold out on?

Posted by: Sanpete | Oct 3, 2006 9:00:53 PM

Kos is posting a reframing of progressivism which emphasizes its commonalities with libertarianism in order to allow people who have libertarian tendencies to feel as though they have a place under the Big Tent (which they do, but they may not have known that there was a seat being kept for them). That's all.

Kimmitt is exactly right, to the extent that everyone else is completely wrong on this, not even a little bit right. Kos is trying his hand at framing, expanding the Democratic tent in a way that would not necessarily sell out all progressive principles.

Libertarianism is a straight-up bullshit philosophy, a merging the abdication of social responsibility with the delusion that this abdication leads to free ponies for everyone in the world. Their idea of "freedom" is just the reinscription of already existing power relations. It's stupid, and dangerous.

A remarkably good description of Libertarianism. However, if Kos is just working on some framing, then he's not really gunning for the emotionally and intellectually stunted people you describe.

Kos is a big fan of creating Democratic strongholds out West. In the West, what passes for a Libertarian is often someone who grazes their cattle on public land, works on a government installation or works at a business that caters to government workers, and who wants the the government to "leave them alone."

I believe that many of these people would be willing to entertain the idea that Democrats want to keep the government out of everyone's personal life, while making sure that no one entity is able to exploit loopholes in the laws and take away the individual's ability to work hard and succeed. That's what Kos is talking about. Keep the government out of the bedroom and make sure that the developers aren't able to buy up all the land, build crappy houses and send the millions to the coasts.

And since this is a Kos thread:

Kos is a real big poopyhead. If you get nothing else from my post, remember Kos's poopyheadity.

Posted by: Stephen | Oct 3, 2006 9:37:21 PM

Kimmitt is exactly right, to the extent that everyone else is completely wrong on this, not even a little bit right.

Mind if I save this? I'd like to show it to my wife, as sort of a "stopped clock" moment.

Posted by: Kimmitt | Oct 3, 2006 10:42:11 PM

Mind if I save this? I'd like to show it to my wife, as sort of a "stopped clock" moment.

Since it is highly unlikely that she knows me and won't therefore dismiss the source, certainly. BTW, I am a multimillionaire poli-sci Ph.D who advises Democratic candidates all over the country. I mean, the ones who win, not the other ones. I leave them for Bob Shrum.

There, that should really impress her!

Posted by: Stephen | Oct 3, 2006 11:36:00 PM

Having worked for the government I really believe we don't need it to be bigger. Just better. I remember filling out those legendary forms with the same info on 5 or 6 different forms. It's stupid. We really need government to be less cumbersome and leaden. It just needs to be better organized and more efficient. I also believe, in the race to keep up government has thrown out alot of good ideas and kept in bad ones. Like schools. They throw out the good sound basics of years ago that worked and experiment with stupid ones...like new math. A whole generation turned off of math for a stupid theory that made no sense and math 4 times as hard. And simplify. Just simplify.
I do not want coorporations being bigger and stronger than government. Coorporations are evil and work to destroy community and society for the bottom line. They care nothing for people or life or environment. They only care about $$$$$.
If government simplified, organized and kept good basics in and quit fixing things that aren't broken with dumb ideas it could be really good.

Posted by: dlake | Oct 4, 2006 12:34:29 AM

I wouldn't call this reframed progressivism unless you would refer to the policy views of the DLC as progressive (most progressives think they are satanists); a skeptical stance toward government while shunning anti-government nihlism, an emphasis on government & redistributive acts that increase individual's autonomy rather than alter relativities. In fact it's only difference would that Markos' libertarian Democrats goes even further right, as it extols the virtues of capitalism to a greater degree than the DLCers would.

Not that I'm complaining, while extreme, this type of Democrat is closer to my alley than the mealy mouthed sentiments of most progressives. But if this is Progressive, than someone owes Ed Kilgore an apology.

Posted by: DRR | Oct 4, 2006 12:48:36 AM

DRR: It's not DLC policy so much as DLC tactics and bedfellows which are loathed. View how the NDN is treated with respect, despite advocating essentially the same policy set. The difference lies in partisanship -- the DLC explicitly seeks to gain influence at the expense of the Party as a whole, while the NDN seeks to gain influence by expanding the capacity of the Party and filling in the void. One of these is a fundamentally respectable strategy, and the other is not.

Again, "equality of opportunity" is a tremendously elastic phrase, and should be part of a rollicking and interesting debate -- a debate which can occur in the big tent, since everyone agrees that we shouldn't torture people, we shouldn't lie our way into wars, and government should be fundamentally accountable to its citizens. If they (libs)'re in the tent, maybe we'll convince a few of them, and their skeptical bent will likely allow us to more effectively evaluate our own programs and/or challenge our preconceptions.

Stephen: Dangit, won't work. She knows too many Poli Sci PH.D's. Anonymous commentary is better.

Posted by: Kimmitt | Oct 4, 2006 1:03:22 AM

Fred, I guarantee you that most conservatives/libertarians always make sure that they're healthy, employed, and otherwise out of harm's way before they call for the rollback or elimination of the welfare state. Why you don't emphasize somewhat with the plight of people who DO find themselves in difficulty -- esp. when so much EXISTING government policy is designed to help those who don't need it-- would indicate to that me you either viscerally hate the unfortunate, or have never found yourself in their position.

Posted by: Paul | Oct 4, 2006 8:19:57 AM

All of the comments about Kos and the DLC and whatnot are nice and all, but they miss the point, I think. Kos is very ambitious and very opportunistic. I think it'll bite him in the ass someday, and it's a big reason I really can't stand him (or the site, but that's mostly because of the culture) anymore.

Posted by: Fnor | Oct 4, 2006 10:11:14 AM

She knows too many Poli Sci PH.D's.

I was lying anyway.

Remember everyone: Kos is a poopyhead! (Just thought I would distill down the tone and substance of several of the foregoing comments into one sentence.)

Posted by: Stephen | Oct 4, 2006 11:30:47 AM

using kos' own nuanced language skills, i would just call him an assclown.

Posted by: christian | Oct 4, 2006 12:44:45 PM

...would indicate to that me you either viscerally hate the unfortunate, or have never found yourself in their position.

Paul has attemted to speak for me, but is simply not qualified. Paul has given a false choice of "hate the unfortunate" or "never found yourself in their position". What a pantsload.

The truth is, I have been poor, raised by a poor family. My father traded a shotgun and a note for 10K for a small frame house. Neither of my parents graduated from college, but they 'programmed' all five kids to make something better of themselves, go to school, "sharpen the saw" as my dad put it. 3 out of five have at *least* a college degree now. Now I own houses and apartments, am a professional with a state license and do pretty well.

I guess my point is that this is, indeed, the land of opportunity, Paul, but it isn't handed to you. You have to work for it and it makes me unhappy with people like you that preach the liberal gospel that the individual has absolutely no power in his own life.

Posted by: Fred Jones | Oct 4, 2006 4:22:57 PM

Fred -- I think a better way to say it is that you and your parents have to work for it. Which, for folks who don't have parents who have the background, wherewithal, and sense to 'program' their kids, is something of an issue.

Besides, why make it so damn difficult all the time? Isn't life for enjoying as well as using? Sure, I worked hard for my success, but I also got lucky as hell, too. There's no sense to not spreading that around.

Posted by: Kimmitt | Oct 4, 2006 4:30:54 PM

Finally, I have no idea where the hatred of Kos or dKos comes from. dKos is simply tremendously diverse, so you can either wallow in the extant suckiness or take advantage of the wonkiness or look for fellow-travelers to reduce the amount of bourbon you need. Kos is just this guy who really wants Dems to win and has some pretty good ideas, but of course has blind spots and times of occasional great foolishness like everyone else.

Posted by: Kimmitt | Oct 4, 2006 4:33:39 PM

But Kimmitt, does Kos agree with you all of the time? Have you considered this?

What about the diarists - do they ever write things you don't like? Do you have a blog that Kos hasn't linked to, or is your own Most Important Issue EVAR! not given the attention it deserves?

Hmmm? Hmmmmmm?

Haven't you even considered that Kos is, in fact, a giant poopyhead?

These are the important questions of the day, Kimmitt, especially the last one. Because Kos is a big giant poopyhead with a stinky blog and his farts stink and his nose hair is too long and he needs a shower because his butt stinks.

That poopyhead.

Posted by: Stephen | Oct 4, 2006 4:41:06 PM

What Kimmitt said, Fred. The social policies that are out there are what they are, and the only 'pantsload' here is your lack of willingness to acknowledge that they can affect the "luck" of people that are simply trying to get by.

I pointed out (with a well-documented paper that you ignored) that a lot of these policies ONLY exist to reduce the risk or financial burden for the well-off. The monies tied up in them are therefore not available for other programs that seek to help those in greater need.

You may not want to admit it, but I'm sure if we scrutinized your or your parents' background, Fred, there may well be some government intervention that assisted one or all of you*, esp. when you may have been too young to remember. If not, consider yourself lucky -- I'm a physician who's seen that a medical disease NOT brought on by irresponsible behavior can nonetheless bring a family to financial ruin.

In addition, I'd like to point out that a number of red states receive more in taxes than they give, so if you grew up in any of them you may have benefited in ways you might not have noticed, and are probably less likely to acknowledge.

But then, if you're like certain conservatarians, there can't be too much money thrown at the military and/or the Iraqi debacle. It's not about "spending" per se, just knee-jerk opposition to whatever the liberals support. At least the anarchists are far more consistent with their ideology.


*I should point out that a state license is just one way that people in your line of work use the government to reduce competition for your services, but I digress...

Posted by: Paul | Oct 4, 2006 5:38:56 PM

Kos is the debbil. And a poopyhead.

Posted by: bob mcmanus | Oct 5, 2006 9:36:55 AM

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