Wednesday, May 07, 2008

The Libertarian Voter in '08

Libertarian voters have often given 70 percent or more of their votes to Republican candidates, including George W. Bush in 2000. But after six years of war, wiretapping and welfare-state social spending, libertarians gave barely half their votes to Republican candidates in 2006. The swing was even larger in Senate races. It seems clear that a lot of the centrist, moderate, and independent voters who swung to the Democrats in 2006 were libertarian leaners.

The presidential campaign this year has been bleak for libertarian voters, with full slates of big-government liberals and big-government conservatives...

Now the choices are down to three. Hillary Clinton, a self-proclaimed "government junkie," is not likely to have much appeal for libertarians. But what about the two frontrunners? Mr. McCain will try to keep libertarian voters in the Republican column by defining Mr. Obama as a big-government, big-spending liberal friend of Ted Kennedy and Nancy Pelosi. But President Bush and the Republican Congress have severely undermined Republican credibility on fiscal conservatism.

Mr. McCain is also the leading supporter of the war in Iraq, which is unpopular with independent and libertarian voters. And he has a long record of hostility to the First Amendment, from campaign finance regulation to regulating blogs to banning flag desecration...

Mr. Obama offers virtually the opposite profile. He's been against the war from the beginning. He has tried to scale back the excesses of the Patriot Act and promises to review Bush's sweeping claims of executive power. His rhetoric about moving beyond liberal-conservative fights appeals to libertarians and independents.

But buried inside the soaring eloquence of his speeches is a veritable laundry list of taxpayer handouts for every voting bloc, and he has even questioned the benefits of free trade. If he wants to appeal to libertarian and independent voters, he should show a tiny bit of independence from the Kennedy-Pelosi-Clinton-labor agenda. He could advocate Social Security private accounts as a way for low-income families to build wealth, or endorse school choice for children condemned to failing schools.

Republicans have been trying to drive libertarian voters out of their party. But so far Democrats aren't jumping on that opportunity.

Depressing to be sure. Still, as tough at is, I try to keep the ear muffs on when Obama talks taxes and trade, and just remember that it all begins with foreign policy. War is, indeed, the health of the state - and for that reason, we must oppose it at all costs.