December 4, 2006


Sebastian Mallaby of the Washington Post is about as good at deconstructing the American right as E.J. Dionne is at deconstructing the American left. Today, he riffs on a recent article in the New Republic by Brink Lindsey of the Cato Institute. He has some interesting insights on the soon-to-be irreconcilable differences between libertarian GOPers and the traditionalists of the South. I wouldn't say that they are new insights, but they are well-written. Considering that we are in the days of Bob Herbert's sloppy righteousness, David Brooks's consistent inconsistencies, and George Will's Quixotic crusades, an insightful op-ed deserves some praise.

Lindsey's answer is that Republicans are not merely failing to live up to their principles; the principles have altered.
Mallaby recognizes the ideological heterogeneity of the GOP, and I'm reminded of an article I once read of how the political careers of the three generation of Bushes (Prescott, George, and Dubya) mirror the coalitions, but I could not find the article.
There has always been a tension between Republican libertarians, who believe that individual choices should be unconstrained by received wisdom, and Republican traditionalists, who believe pretty much the opposite. Christian conservatives now press for affirmative state action on behalf of traditional values: amendments to the constitution to bar gay marriage, government efforts to teach abstinence, federal payments to faith-based groups. All these policies appall libertarians. It's not just the values of the South that pose a problem. It is the region's appetite for government. The most solidly red states in the nation tend also to be the most reliant on federal handouts -- farm subsidies, water projects and sundry other earmarks. It's hard to be the party of small government when you represent the communities that benefit most from big government.
That being said, I don't know why Lindsey (and, by extension, Mallaby) presume that a libertarian desertion of the GOP would necessarily mean a big bump for the Democrats, unless they're arguing that it would happen by default. It might be that libertarians would simply be disaffected until GOP nominees were more in-line with their ideology. Maybe some would vote for moderate Democrats, but I doubt that all of them would. A wholesale switching of party affiliation, particularly in such a short period of time, seems unlikely.