The vote on the Amash-Conyers amendment to restrict the activities of the NSA has stirred up a small political hornets nest. As someone who is very concerned about the NSA's reach, I see it as a useful step toward getting a serious debate on the subject rolling. I am not especially bothered by the politically unusual alliance between liberal Democrats and libertarian Republicans. However, I have great doubts that it is anything that is going to change the face of American politics.
I am one of those liberal Democrats and have been since about age 18 when I began to realize that the racist society in which I had been raised in the Jim Crow South was morally bankrupt. I haven't spent a lot of my time and energy examining the goings on within the Republican party in great detail. I'm not going to vote for them, so I'm not interested in the nuance.
Finding myself in agreement with libertarians on one issue came as something of a surprise to me and it started me doing some thinking and exploration. I wrote this diary on the day of the actual vote. Going To Bed With Libertarians.
In that diary I implied that libertarians have a broad commitment to civil liberties and are in opposition to the social conservatives of the Republican party. Those are political truisms that I had picked up over recent years. I decided that I needed to do a closer examination of the Republican tent. I knew that the Tea Party was essentially an alliance of people on the right of the that party and that is mostly libertarians and social conservatives. They have managed to have some impact on elections and to pull the party further to the right on several hot button issues. How did they do that if they were two factions at war? I started Googling around about their relationships.
I found this piece by Jack Hunter who is Rand Paul's communications director.
Some on both the left and right perceive libertarianism as inherently hostile to social conservatism. Some libertarians even think this. This is not only a misperception, but flat out wrong—libertarianism offers social conservatives a better hope for success in our current political environment than the nationalist approach often favored by some social conservative leaders.It goes on to argue that the key to unity is a states rights approach. For example the social conservatives have little hope of a national prohibition against such things as abortion or gay and lesbian marriage. However, they have the political muscle in red states to hold the line if they can keep the federal government from infringing on the province of state regulation. That strategy is clearly being followed in several states.
Part of the beauty of libertarianism is that you can be socially liberal or socially conservative and subscribe to the label. For the millions of social conservatives who constitute a significant base of the Republicans Party, embracing libertarianism is not an all-or-nothing question of accepting or rejecting deep convictions about life, traditional marriage, or drug regulation. It simply means rethinking the approach to these issues.
This is just one example from someone closely linked to an important Republican libertarian. If you Google Rand Paul and pro-life you will see him switching back and forth on the issue. He clearly doesn't have a commitment on the issue that would match up with anything that we would recognize as a pro-choice position.
The reality is that there really isn't a war between the two groups. There are individual arguments and spats on some specific issues just as there are between people on the left, but they have an ongoing working political coalition.
That set me to thinking about how fundamentally different is the way that I conceive civil liberty from the way that libertarians do. Their bed rock notion is one of personal freedom. Their generally aggressive interpretation of the second amendment fits right into that. It is personified by the revolutionary flag of the snake saying don't tread on me. There is little room in this view for a notion of respect for human dignity when pursuit of such a goal might require some restrictions on one's personal situation.
My concern as a liberal is with the rights of others in addition to my own. I find it impossible to separate than from economic considerations. If you lack the fundamental necessities of life such as food and health care, there is little satisfaction in saying well at least I am free from control of the federal government. I frequently find that my views on the free speech section of the first amendment are qualified and limited. I am willing to accept restrictions on things such as hate speech that impact other people's lives.
I am not even sure that we arrive at a point of concern about NSA for the same reasons. For them it's about government power and control. They don't want the government to have any, right down to running the Post Office. I see many reasons why an effective government must have powers. What I want is for the government to be accountable to the citizens and that can't happen when important policy is being made in secret.
What it comes down to for me is that I am a communitarian and that is the opposite of a libertairian. I really can't envision an ongoing coalition between the two groups. The folks that are in the Tea Party are there because they have a lot in common.