Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Libertarians and Republicans side-byside comparison

Posted by Craig Westover | 9:08 AM |  

Michael B. Brodkorb, Minnesota Democrats Exposed, has sent a letter to Republicans detailing his opposition to Sue Jeffers seeking the gubernatorial endorsement of the Republican Party because she is also endorsed by the Libertarian Party and declared herself a Libertarian. Part of his opposition is based on differences between selected positions of the Libertarian Party and the Republican Platform.

Indeed these differences may present delegates with a reason why Jeffers should not be the endorsed Republican candidate. That is a delegate decision. However, rather than treat the differences as little more than a label to denigrate a political opponent, they better serve as a departure point for examining both Libertarian and Republican Party principles and how those principles manifest themselves in policy.

Both parties have something to learn from such an exercise, which is why a challenge to power such as Jeffers is making within the Republican Party is a good, not a bad thing. She’s raised the question of whether or not Republicans are going to be a issue and constituency oriented party like the Democrats or a party based on principle.

Below are my thoughts of the differences between Libertarians and Republicans as stated by Brodkorb and using his language.


Libertarians: We oppose actions that compel, prohibit, regulate or subsidize abortion, sterilization or any other forms of birth control.

Republican Platform: Abortion without exception is wrong and should be opposed.

Taking these two positions side-by-side one thing should be obvious: the Libertarian position is an actionable statement. It is opposed to government compulsion of actions by individuals, whereas the Republican platform position is a vague statement that is wide open to interpretation when it comes to setting policy.

A simple example is the governor’s statement that he favors a legislative ban on abortion similar to that initiated in South Dakota except that beyond an exemption to save the life of the mother, he would include exemptions in cases of incest and rape. On what principle?

If abortion is “wrong without exception,” then isn’t the taking an innocent life resulting from incest and rape equally to be protected with all other pregnancies? And if the reason for allowing this exemption is the mental health of the mother, then why isn’t that a valid reason for exempting any woman from the abortion ban under the claim of mental health? The platform position is unworkable as a matter of policy.

A further point is that a Libertarian is not required to endorse all activities that a free society allows. A Libertarian can hold the Republican platform position as a personal belief, actively work to educate and inform people about the evils of abortion, work to provide counseling and adoption services, and stand up and condemn abortion in whatever public forums are available. The issue for the Libertarian is that limited government doesn’t have the authority to be in the fetal protection business.

Same-sex Marriage

Libertarians: We hold that unions between adults are a private matter and should not be the subject of private licensing, regardless of sex. We call for the State of Minnesota to not restrict or give preferential treatment to private contracts between adults.

Republican Platform: We should amend the U.S. constitution and the Minnesota Constitution to define marriage as the legal union of a man and a woman.

In this case, the blanks of both parties are a bit over extended. It is the Libertarian position that is unworkable as policy. The Republican Platform is workable policy; the question is whether or not it is good policy.

The Libertarian plank is philosophically consistent and if taken to mean that government has no authority to say who may live with whom and may not limit any private contracts they might make among themselves, then it is on safe grounds. However, where Libertarians miss the point is that the state does have authority to grant some relationships, based on neutral criteria special status because they benefit the larger community.

For example, the state recognizes corporations as a special class because corporate structures create economic tools that enhance economic growth. It also grants privileges to corporations that are simply bad policy. The definition of a corporation is fluid.

The state also has the authority to define legal marriage for the same reason -- as an institution, marriage provides benefits to society. That is the crux of the same-sex marriage debate. It is not about love and equality -- it is a question of whether or not expanding legal marriage to include same-sex marriage is good or bad for society.

The Republican Platform call for constitutional amendments would severely curtail that debate and take the decision of same-sex marriage not just out of the hands of the courts, but out of the hands of the legislature at some future point in time. That, I submit, is contrary to the principles of a party that believes the people, not an elected elite at any given point in time, should decide issues about the way they want to live.


Libertarians: “Because gambling is a voluntary activity, and therefore a victimless crime…”

Republican Platform: “We should eliminate all state-sponsored gambling and oppose any expansion of gambling in Minnesota.”

The Republican Party opposes the expansion of gambling. A 100 percent libertarian would see that as the state interfering with the Republican principle of the free market and argue that limited government should not make moral choices for individuals. Practically, the state does have the authority to regulate what kind of businesses operate in the state, provided it demonstrates that regulation is not arbitrary. A good argument can be made for limiting gambling and it is a debate we should have.

However, a Libertarian would absolutely be opposed to a government run or a government partnership casino that was intended to create additional revenue to fix a budget problem caused by too much government spending. I ask, which type of gambling expansion did our governor propose? A Libertarian would not, as the governor is, tout the contributions of the Minnesota State Lottery to the environment. In that it would seem the governor, not the Libertarians, is in opposition to the Republican Party Platform.

Again, it is important to remember that a Libertarian is not obligated to support all of the activities a free society might allow, and that includes gambling.


Libertarians: “We call for an end to the ‘War on Drugs,’ which like all previous wars on drugs is in reality a war by the federal, state and local government on the people it is supposed to protect from war. Until such time as the prohibition of drugs is repealed,we call for an end to the denial of pain relieving drugs such as marijuana and heroin to those who are suffering.”

Republican Platform: The Republican Party of Minnesota’s platform has no provision advocating the legalization of marijuana and heroin.

The Libertarian position on the “War on Drugs” if looked at as a policy issue, is correct. Drug use is, was and always will be a demand issue. The War on Drugs treats it as a supply issue and wastes millions of dollars, tramples individuals rights and most importantly doesn’t make a dent in the problem.

Relaxation of criminal charges for drug use, bringing use into the open and making individuals accountable for the consequences of irresponsible drug use is a more effective path. Libertarians, however, fail to recognize as a matter of policy that arriving at that point is a gradual process that requires some first-step changes in government policies.

First -- government’s primary responsibility is protecting citizens. If we are going to allow people to use drugs, including alcohol, recreationally, then we must protect other citizens from irresponsible use. That means severe penalties, without exception, for people that use drugs and place others in danger, again, including driving while intoxicated. It means severe legal penalties for the suburban kid as well as the ghetto kid. The emphasis must be on protection of the innocent not concern for the hapless addict. The legal system must look at drug-related crimes as crime, not disease.

Second -- employers must be free to dismiss employees for drug use and establish rules that prohibit drug use by employees on or off the job as a condition of employment. This might seem very anti-libertarian, but it is, in fact, part of the freedom to contract. Drug use impairs productivity and employers should be free to protect their businesses from what they might consider potential harm.

Third -- insurance companies must be free to establish rates based on drug use criteria and to exempt, if they choose, drug treatment from policies. The point is if drug use is going to be an activity of choice, then it should carry individual accountability.

The real issue here is probably medical marijuana, which ought to be a no-brainer for a Republican. What is the justification for putting legislators between doctors and patients?


Libertarians: “In particular we are opposed to all regulation of activities such as…prostitution”

Republican Platform: The Republican Party of Minnesota’s platform has no provision advocating the legalization of prostitution.

The Libertarian prostitution plank is an example, like drug use, where Libertarians confuse philosophy with policy. From the Libertarian perspective, exchanging money for sex is no different that exchanging dinner at Manny’s and a night at the Guthrie for sex. Prostitution is a private contract between two people and therefore should not be criminalized by government.

That’s good as far as it goes, but Libertarians forget that government does have the authority to protect citizens from harm, and that includes nuisance harms, if justified by established criteria. Libertarians also don’t always appreciate the concept of federalism -- that is some laws that exceed the authority of state are legitimate at the local level.

To put prostitution into perspective, a constitutional Libertarian would view it as exceeding government authority to ban the exchange of sex for money at the state level. Prohibiting or allowing prostitution and regulating time. Place and manner, is more appropriately a local issue.

That’s the stance in a philosophical nutshell. The issue is somewhat of a red herring, for like drug legalization, because so many government barriers stand in the way of personal accountability that must be corrected.

Right to Life

Libertarians: “…terminally or hopelessly ill persons should have the right to die at the time and place and under the conditions of their own choosing.”

Republican Platform: “The U.S. and Minnesota Constitutions should be amended to restore legal protection for the lives of innocent human beings from conception to natural death.”

This is an interesting set of statements because both skirt the crux of the issue. The Libertarian position is self-evident: there is very little the state can do to prvent a person from choosing to die, nor should it. But what the Libertarian position ignores is the responsibilities and obligations of third parties in a person’s death. I may have a right to die, but I have no right to involve others in my choice or my action. Implying a legal “right to die” implies that the state has the obligation to protect that right and ensure that I can achieve it. That is not a Libertarian position.

The Republican Platform makes the same mistake from the other side of the equation. It denies that a person has an individual right to choose to die and that other individuals might choose to aid in that process. Using the constitution to legislate is, as it is with same-sex marriage, a broad solution to what is without exception an individual decision.