If you’re a Libertarian for long enough, someone will either call you a “liberal” or imply that Libertarians are somehow leftist. Of course, the classic liberalism we all know and love isn’t what most conservatives mean when they try to call us liberals. Part of the issue is a lack of understanding. But why haven’t many Republicans figured it out yet? After all, if they were to listen to what we said, they’d agree with us more often than not.
Ronald Reagan, Conservatism, and Libertarianism
In 1975, former President —then Governor — Ronald Reagan told Reason Magazine, “I believe that the very heart and soul of conservatism is libertarianism.” Perhaps something Republicans need to be reminded of is that the whole idea was about less government interference, period. This very principle of libertarianism was echoed by Reagan throughout the interview, saying things like, “I disagree completely when government says that because of the number of head injuries from accidents with motorcycles that he should be forced to wear a helmet.”
What happened? Where are the Republicans that once claimed to agree with most of Reagan’s ideas? Today, we have Republicans drifting farther away from liberty and farther towards the right. In fact, there’s a case to be made that many Republicans are no longer “Republican.” Rather, they label themselves as “conservative” on most issues.
Drug Restrictions and Personal Liberty
There used to be a saying that sometimes still goes around: Libertarians — Keeping Democrats out of your wallet and Republicans out of your bedroom. The obvious inference is that Democrats were (and still are) crazy about taxing everything and Republicans were crazy about gay marriage. Today, most Republicans have come around on gay marriage, but still want the government to regulate a lot of things. It’s when Libertarians push back on social issues is when some Republicans start slinging the L-word at us.
A good example of this is the war on drugs. Libertarians argue for de-scheduling drugs so people can get treated for addiction rather than thrown in jail. Many “conservatives” will thump their chest and cry loudly about it, but they should listen to US Representative Trey Gowdy (R-SC-4) as he questions the national drug policy director, asking, “Why is marijuana worse than cocaine?”
When a fellow Republican questions bad policies their party have upheld for decades, they sometimes ignore it. Why? Gowdy made a great point that marijuana is viewed as “worse than cocaine” by the federal government, which doesn’t make sense considering how addictive cocaine is.
Another time when Libertarians are given the scarlet “L” by Republicans is when one calls for open borders. Mind you, this isn’t the same thing as what Democrats want. Democrats want open borders, where “illegals” can just come and go as they please and probably just get citizenship easy peasy. This would qualify them for welfare since they would be citizens. This is not what Libertarians want.
Whenever a Libertarian calls for open borders, they also want welfare to be cut. Conservatives should read Ron Paul’s statements about open borders. He’s repeatedly described welfare as a “magnet that attracts so many to cross the border illegally.” He continues, “The promise of free money, free food, free education, and free medical care if you cross the border illegally is a powerful incentive for people to do so.” Yet, Republicans often refrain from saying things like this outside of campaign season out of fear that they’ll lose their seat. What’s so liberal about wanting to cut welfare?
Regarding national security, the Libertarian Party platform states, “The defense of the country requires that we have adequate intelligence to detect and to counter threats to domestic security. This requirement must not take priority over maintaining the civil liberties of our citizens.”
It also states, “Political freedom and escape from tyranny demand that individuals not be unreasonably constrained by government in the crossing of political boundaries. Economic freedom demands the unrestricted movement of human…capital across national borders.” Maintaining both freedom and security? Conservatives should be in favor of that.
Border-crazy conservatives will say it’s “liberal” to say that there should be “unrestricted movement” of human capital across national borders. But they fail to acknowledge that the platform also said that we needed to have “adequate intelligence to detect and to counter threats to domestic security.” I have gotten into debates with fellow Libertarians who also make this mistake in suggesting that we shouldn’t have security checks at all. It shouldn’t be as difficult as it is now, but not so simple that we put our own people at risk.
Getting Back to Liberty
Conservatives that think Libertarians are liberal fail to understand much of what the philosophy is about. I would be so bold as to say that there are times when Libertarians are less afraid to make statements conservatives would agree with. Abolishing the minimum wage, implementing school choice, slashing taxes, and even stronger gun rights are all things conservatives would agree with. Why, then, are Libertarians ridiculed by them as liberals?
Many Republicans today are looking for ways to be more narrowly minded, shoving themselves into a conservative corner. Instead, they should try to find their way back to liberty — keeping the government out of people’s business like Reagan claimed to admire. People will eventually grow tired of the Democratic Party’s toxic mindset of control this and ban that. When they do, they’re going to look for a different party.
Republicans could have a shot at capturing more of these people. However, they will shoot themselves in the foot if they continue on a similar path of control this and ban that, just with different colors. This is when —and has been when — the Libertarian Party experiences surges of membership.