Libertarianism is mainstream! It seems as if the libertarian moment has finally arrived, when Americans grasp the significance of the national Libertarian Party motto: “Minimum Government, Maximum Freedom”. The level of anti-government sentiment in the US is startling. Liberals think the Democratic President and his Democratic Congressional colleagues have failed miserably to promote liberal policies, and talk about taking their disapproval to the streets. Republicans have been preaching an anti-government line since Ronald Reagan was President, and have shown more than once their willingness to cripple the normal working of the federal government. Self-promoting ideologues, like Glenn Beck, adopt a libertarian cover to hide fascist ranting. Congressman Ron Paul, who talks like a libertarian, is making a respectable run for the Presidency.
But the Libertarians can’t win. The two big parties have so entrenched themselves behind a wall of laws and practices, that the rise of a popular third party is nearly impossible. Among 7300 state legislators across the country, less than one-third of 1% are from other parties. Only in Vermont has a third party had any success: 3% of state representatives belong to the Vermont Progressive Party, which was founded to support US Senator Bernie Sanders.
Most people who lean libertarian don’t vote Libertarian. Bob Barr, the Libertarian candidate for President in 2008, received less than half of 1% of the votes, although national polls show as many as 20% of voters with libertarian leanings. Like most people who don’t like either big party, they choose the lesser evil, rather than vote for a third-party candidate who can’t win.
So what’s a libertarian to do? The Republican anti-government mantra, including no tax increases on the wealthy, less regulation of industry, less consumer protection, and smaller social programs, seems to look good to those with libertarian leanings. The various groupings that call themselves Tea Parties are not really parties; they explicitly campaign as and for members of the Republican Party. Ron Paul acts like a libertarian, but runs as a Republican. But it would be a big mistake for libertarians to vote Republican.
The Republicans are by far the most dangerous advocates of using government to govern our private lives. George Bush’s administration routinely violated the law by secretly spying on Americans. The whole Republican Party wants to restrict marriage and sex to fit their ideology. If the consensus of scientists or educators doesn’t fit Republicans’ ideological framework, they try to use government to force discredited ideas, like creationism, into public school curricula. Democrats are much less likely to spy on Americans, listen to our phone calls, or tell us whom we can marry. They are, on the other hand, more likely to use government spending to achieve goals of social justice and economic fairness.
Libertarians want to get government off their backs; Republicans only want to get government out of your wallet. The policies that Republican presidential candidates and congressional leaders agree on focus on lowering the amount of funds that flow to government and reducing the influence of government in corporate practices. Minimal government, yes, but not maximum freedom. Does the biggest danger to our freedoms come from government? Today corporations in the “free” marketplace are a much greater danger to our privacy and freedoms. When they start to poke around in Americans’ lives, Republicans are nowhere to be found.
In 2010 Google was forced to admit that its Street View cars, besides taking photographs of the world's roads, had also been snooping into unprotected wireless networks. Apple acknowledged that iPhones and iPads secretly record their users’ movements.
For years, cookies implanted on your computer have been tracking your web browsing. The Wall Street Journal wrote last year that “one of the fastest-growing businesses on the Internet is the business of spying on Internet users.” That article is scary – you can read it by searching for “The Web's New Gold Mine: Your Secrets”. Then last week, the Wall Street Journal reported about “supercookies”: “Major websites such as MSN.com and Hulu.com have been tracking people's online activities using powerful new methods that are almost impossible for computer users to detect.”
So who is going to protect us from the real danger to our freedoms? The corporations who help us stay connected are following our every move. This is exactly where the two parties offer diametrically opposed policies. Republicans attack all government regulations and restrictions on business activity. They want to free big business from public oversight. The Republican dream is a libertarian nightmare – the “free market” is free to watch you all the time. Big Brother isn’t a government camera. It’s a corporate cookie right in your computer.
published in the Jacksonville Journal-Courier, August 23, 2011