Friday, July 11, 2008

Bob Barr and libertarians plugged in Time

Advocates of personal freedom and small government are back on the national media's radar -- in a big way. In "The (Not So) Lunatic Fringe," Time magazine recognizes the relevance of the broad libertarian movement to an extent that has been all-too-rare in recent years.

The credit for this coverage belongs to those millions of Americans who care deeply about freedom -- or who just want to be left alone. They might be philosophical libertarians overall, or primarily dope smokers, or civil libertarians, or home-schoolers, or gun owners, or advocates of Internet autonomy, but their passions have come together this year in two important ways that have propelled the libertarian movement onto the national stage: the enthusiastic backing and impressive support Rep. Ron Paul won during his unsuccessful campaign for the Republican presidential nomination, and the popular support Bob Barr is drawing as the Libertarian candidate for president.

Going against its purist tendencies, the Libertarian Party did its best this year to benefit from the enthusiasm Paul generated by nominating conservative-leaning, moderate libertarian Barr. As of this week, Zogby has Barr polling at 6% nationally -- the margin between Republican John McCain and Democrat Barack Obama -- making him impossible to ignore, especially since he draws even more impressive percentages in many states. Yes, the Zogby poll is an outlier, but it's picking up on a real phenomenon -- and probably helping to fuel that phenomenon as it does so.

The current recognition of the relevance of the libertarian movement is almost certainly because libertarianism is being interpreted broadly this year. The hard-line movement that has controlled the political party of the name and largely defined libertarianism in recent years may appeal to my anarchic soul, but it's all too easy to marginalize because it commands relatively few adherents and advocates for positions that are miles away from the world in which we live. When we define advocacy for freedom as 100% rejection of the modern, authoritarian state, we play into the control-freaks' hands, because then they can claim that very few people really want to run their own lives.

But the 85-percenters still want to be a lot freer than modern America allows. Given the realities of the world in which we actually live (rather than the one in which us radicals might like to live), we're all part of the same libertarian movement. That fact is apparent this year for the first time in a long time.

And that's why Time is spilling ink on the subject.

The one nit I'd pick with the Time article is its characterization of libertarianism as backward-looking.

There is a lot in the complaints in the Libertarian heartland that sounds like nostalgia for an idealized American past. Jim Berg will tell you about grazing-rights grievances, but he's just as quick to lament the death of the ranching lifestyle. "My grandkids have scattered like quail," he says. "They've all gone city."

This sense that progress has gone too far and too fast unites a large swath of Libertarians from coast to coast. ...

But the piece then backs away from that seeming-nostalgia-trip take on people who care about freedom, acknowledging that "it's always been partially left-wing, drawing from a long history of American anarchism. The modern challenge is to unite those two wings--or, as magician (and stalwart Libertarian) Penn Jillette told me, 'Convince the dope guys that the gun guys are O.K., and vice versa.'"

There are certainly people in the libertarian movement driven by a hankering for the past, but I think most modern libertarians -- especially younger ones -- look to the future and want to be free to greet it and shape it on their own terms, not those set by fearful, foot-dragging government officials.

But we embrace the nostalgia-trippers too, because finally, this year, many more people who want to live in a more-free, less-constrained country are emphasizing their similarities rather than their differences.

And they're making a difference by doing so.

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Blogger Torrance Stephens - All-Mi-T said...

thats why i say america is not we the people but rather we the corporation

July 13, 2008 8:22 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've voted Libertarian since 1978. This year I won't be voting Libertarian. Sorry but LP wants my vote, they got to nominate actual Libertarians. Not warmed over neo-fascist Republicans.

Seems Nader may be the only actual candidate I can believe wants to end the stupid war in Iraq. I may not agree whole lot otherwise with him, but do trust that he is genuine and means what he says. The others including Barr just give more hot air spin.

Course dont even know yet if he will be on ballot here in AR. Thanks to AR populace disinterest in past years in protecting their write-in voter rights, we now can only vote for pre=approved write-in candidates or those parties jumping through hoops to get their party candidates on the ballot.

July 21, 2008 4:11 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I trust Time about as far as I could throw one of their printing presses. If they are plugging Barr, it's because they see it as an opportunity to hurt the Republican campaign, while patting themselves on the back for being "balanced".

August 11, 2008 4:43 AM  

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