Can liberals and libertarians join forces?

This video shows a conversation between Paul Jay, CEO and editor-in-chief of the left-liberal Real News Network, and Matt Welch, editor-in-chief of Reason, a libertarian magazine whose motto is “free minds and free markets,” on what liberals and libertarians have in common.

Liberals and libertarians both oppose the United States drift toward militarism and a police state.  They agree in upholding basic human rights under the Constitution.  They both are appalled by the idea that a President can issue death warrants, order someone locked up without a criminal charge or trial, or make it a crime to reveal the government’s crimes.  They both want to scale back the open-ended so-called “war on terror” and bring the Defense and Homeland Security budgets under control.

So why don’t liberals support the libertarian Republican Ron Paul?   The problem for liberals is Ron Paul is opposed to civil rights laws, to health, safety and environmental laws, to the social safety net and to laws to protect labor’s rights to organize – virtually all the accomplishments of the Progressive era and the New Deal.

Matt Welch argues that if your first loyalty is to the Constitution, this should be an acceptable tradeoff, and that a Democrat should vote for Ron Paul rather than Barack Obama.  One might ask Matt Welch whether he would vote for the liberal Democrat Dennis Kucinich if hypothetically Kucinich were to run against Rick Perry or Mitt Romney.   Kucinich is just as strong an opponent of militarism and the emerging U.S. police state as Ron Paul.

Paul Jay pressed Matt Welch on the question of whether he would be willing to raise taxes on the upper 1 percent or 2 percent of income earners in order to reduce the federal budget deficit.   He spoke of earmarking these taxes for deficit reduction, which is bogus, because whether the size of the deficit is determined by total revenue compared to total spending (including interest payments).  But this doesn’t change his basic argument, which is that it is wrong to reduce expenditures on the poor in order to avoid raising taxes on the rich.

Welch said he doesn’t care at what rate rich people are taxed, but he wants to cut spending rather than raise taxes.  Jay said it is better to raise taxes on rich people than to cut Social Security and Medicare.

Welch quoted fellow editor Nick Gillespie as saying government spending should be capped at 19 percent of Gross Domestic Product, which is the long-term average.  This might be reasonable if the government used a so-called full employment budget—the GDP in a hypothetical full-employment economy.  Otherwise the federal government should be in the same position as state governments, cutting basic services and adding to unemployment in times of economic adversity.

He said he favors eliminating subsidies to bank, agri-business, energy companies and other special interests before changing programs that primarily benefit poor people.   I’m sure he is sincere in saying this.  But in the present negotiations between President Obama and the Republicans in Congress, it is those programs that are on the table.

Welch made a distinction, which he did not explain, between “entitlements” and the social safety net, which I take to mean that Social Security and Medicare would be limited to the needy instead of being available to everyone.

But to get back to the basic question, I’m not sure what I would do in the hypothetical situation of having to choose between Barack Obama and Ron Paul.   I believe President Obama as an individual is a more capable leader than Ron Paul, Rick Perry, Mitt Romney or any of the other Republican candidates.  But in the end, maybe it is more important to have a President who respects habeas corpus and due process of law, and does not follow Wall Street and the Pentagon in setting policy.  But I’m not likely to have this dilemma because I don’t think Ron Paul is acceptable either to the Republican Party leadership or the majority of Republican voters.

[9/29/11]  Click on Ralph Nader’s Grand Alliance for an article in The American Conservative on a possible left-libertarian alliance.

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2 Responses to “Can liberals and libertarians join forces?”

  1. Anne Tanner Says:

    This is really the silliest idea I have heard yet in this silly campaign.


  2. gerry Says:



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