It's no secret that I look to the Mountain West for the future of the Democratic Party, people like Brian Schweitzer and Jon Tester. But I also look to candidates like Jim Webb in Virginia and Paul Hackett in Ohio.
And what is the common thread amongst these candidates?
They are all Libertarian Democrats.
Ack, the "L" word! But hear me out.
Traditional "libertarianism" holds that government is evil and thus must be minimized. Any and all government intrusion is bad. While practical libertarians (as opposed to those who waste their votes on the Libertarian Party) have traditionally aligned themselves with the Republicans, it's clear that the modern GOP has no qualms about trampling on personal liberties. Heck, it's become their raison d' etre.
The problem with this form of libertarianism is that it assumes that only two forces can infringe on liberty -- the government and other individuals.
The Libertarian Democrat understands that there is a third danger to personal liberty -- the corporation. The Libertarian Dem understands that corporations, left unchecked, can be huge dangers to our personal liberties.
Libertarian Dems are not hostile to government like traditional libertarians. But unlike the liberal Democrats of old times (now all but extinct), the Libertarian Dem doesn't believe government is the solution for everything. But it sure as heck is effective in checking the power of corporations.
In other words, government can protect our liberties from those who would infringe upon them -- corporations and other individuals.
So in practical terms, what does a Libertarian Dem look like? A Libertarian Dem rejects government efforts to intrude in our bedrooms and churches. A Libertarian Dem rejects government "Big Brother" efforts, such as the NSA spying of tens of millions of Americans. A Libertarian Dem rejects efforts to strip away rights enumerated in the Bill of Rights -- from the First Amendment to the 10th. And yes, that includes the 2nd Amendment and the right to bear arms.
So far, this isn't much different than what a traditional libertarian believes. Here is where it begins to differ (and it shouldn't).
A Libertarian Dem believes that true liberty requires freedom of movement -- we need roads and public transportation to give people freedom to travel wherever they might want. A Libertarian Dem believes that we should have the freedom to enjoy the outdoor without getting poisoned; that corporate polluters infringe on our rights and should be checked. A Libertarian Dem believes that people should have the freedom to make a living without being unduly exploited by employers. A Libertarian Dem understands that no one enjoys true liberty if they constantly fear for their lives, so strong crime and poverty prevention programs can create a safe environment for the pursuit of happiness. A Libertarian Dem gets that no one is truly free if they fear for their health, so social net programs are important to allow individuals to continue to live happily into their old age. Same with health care. And so on.
The core Democratic values of fairness, opportunity, and investing in our nation and people very much speak to the concept of personal liberties -- an open society where success is predicated on the merit of our ideas and efforts, unduly burdened by the government, corporate America, or other individuals. And rather than always get in the way, government can facilitate this.
Of course, this also means that government isn't always the solution to the nation's problems. There are times when business-government partnerships can be extremely effective (such as job retraining efforts for displaced workers). There are times when government really should butt out (like a great deal of small-business regulation). Our first proposed solution to a problem facing our nation shouldn't be more regulation, more government programs, more bureaucracy.
The key here isn't universal liberty from government intrusion, but policies that maximize individual freedom, and who can protect those individual freedoms best from those who would infringe.
I am very much a Libertarian Dem, and this is exactly what my next book will be about. It's progressivism for a new century. And that's what this new breed of Democrat is building in the Mountain West and Virginia and Ohio.
Update: Ha, framing... Yeah, "Lib Dem" reads just like "liberal democrat". So I edited.