Whoever put the “liberal” in “libertarian?”

By Matt Barnum

Wouldn’t it be nice if life were as simple as Facebook?

You could have all the friends you wanted by just sending anyone a friend request, even if you didn’t really know the person. Communication would be simple; plus, you could intercept others’ correspondences through the handy “wall-to-wall” feature—and you could “poke” someone anytime you wanted to…well, you get the picture.

The other nifty thing about Facebook is how it has narrowed “political views” into seven neat, narrow categories (including “other”); if only it were so. I have gone back and forth on whether to list myself as a conservative or a libertarian—it is, after all, a crucial decision, if not for those who view my profile, then at least for me, as a symbolic statement.

If you check my profile, you will find that I am a conservative, but you will not find the truth about my political views, because in any case, one word cannot fully describe anyone who thinks rationally about public policy. I decided to label myself as such for the ideological reason that I am pro-life, and for the partisan reason that I vote Republican. However, apart from these crucial differences, the Libertarian Party (yes, there is an actual party) and I see eye to eye on just about every issue.

So am I then a social liberal? No, and herein lies the fallacy I wish to expose: social libertarianism and social liberalism are hardly synonymous.

Sure, liberals and libertarians tend to agree on such important issues as abortion, gay marriage, immigration, the death penalty, flag burning, and drug legalization. On the other hand, conservatives and libertarians find themselves aligned on matters such as gun control, affirmative action, political speech (i.e. campaign finance reform), environmental regulations, education policy (generally), health regulations (i.e. smoking and fatty food bans), and freedom of association.

Surprisingly, libertarians align with conservatives on about as many social matters as they do with liberals. But perhaps more important than an issue-by-issue run-down is philosophical agreement between conservatives and libertarians. The two agree on the crucial ideas that personal responsibility is the backbone of society and that Ronald Reagan was right to say, “Government is not the solution; government is the problem.” Although the two differ in certain areas, they will always be united in these central beliefs.

Although libertarians (and, for that matter, conservatives) have been alienated by free-spending, government-expanding, quasi-conservative Republicans, they (we?) should realize that the best hope of advancing most libertarian policies lies in the Republican Party. Much was made in the 2006 election of libertarian-leaning “mountain” states electing Democrats, and this is certainly an issue for Republicans—an issue, however, that should be unexpectedly easy to solve. Republicans used to be the party of small government, but President Bush and his “compassionate conservatism,” as well as the inept, non-ideological Republican congressional leadership, have laid this reputation to waste. But all hope is not gone: 2008 brings a new presidential election and with it a new Republican nominee. Maybe he will bring back true conservatism, and, by definition, much of true libertarianism. Indeed, once Republicans return to conservatism, libertarians should return to Republicanism.