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The Libertarian Problem

January 24, 2010
 by Austin Raynor


Voter anger is not enough to significantly restrain government's expansion; in order to capitalize on public discontent, those in favor of limited government must identify and promote a political solution with long-term implications.

Scott Brown’s victory last week sent the Democrats sprawling, disarming their filibuster-proof majority and casting their major legislative projects, particularly the health care overhaul, into doubt. The results should be construed as primarily anti-Obama rather than pro-GOP; Massachusetts had not elected a Republican to the seat Brown won since 1953, and had not had a Republican senator whatsoever since 1979.

More tellingly, 53 percent of those who voted in Tuesday’s election identified themselves as political independents; these independents favored Brown two to one. In 2008, Obama won independent voters by 17 points. Among those who believe the nation is heading in the wrong direction, Coakley, Brown’s opponent, lost by 35 points; Obama won in that voter category by 45 points.

Dissatisfaction with government has spread and intensified. Forty-three percent of voters, according to Rasmussen Reports, strongly disapprove of how President Obama is running the country; his overall disapproval rating among likely voters is 55 percent. Sixty-six percent of voters believe the country is heading in the wrong direction.

Independent voters, a powerful and growing bloc, remain politically unrepresented. President Bush’s overreaching wars and invasions of civil liberties alienated them in 2004, and now President Obama’s unprecedented economic intrusions have alienated them again. In both cases, government overstepping its bounds was and is the source of voter anger.

The Tea Party movement represents one of the more libertarian, populist, and outraged factions of anti-government activism, but voters across the spectrum are dissatisfied. Traditional conservatives were disgusted by Bush’s disrespect for privacy rights and his massive welfare-state expansion (i.e., the prescription drug benefit addition to Medicare).

Now, fiscally conscious Democrats and traditional liberals squirm as the Obama administration runs up astronomical deficits and attempts to squelch individual choice in favor of state-enforced homogeneity. Voting the rascals out, it seems, entails merely voting more rascals in.

All this begs the question: what can be done? What measures can be taken to restrain the leviathan? For those interested in limited government and individual rights, this is the most difficult, and pressing, question for the movement. Cato and other institutions have worked tirelessly to educate the population about the benefits of limited government, but, for all their work, governmental growth remains unchecked.

Tea Party activists have turned to protests and rallies to make their point, but there is little indication that these methods will have any lasting impact on the political process. The choice between Republicans and Democrats is nearly moot: both have consistently supported expansion of federal government, and continue to do so.

It is, apparently, hopeless to desire the federal government to restrain itself. It is becoming increasingly clear that, apart from the emergence of an iconoclastic leader, the solution must be, to a degree, external. This leaves two routes: constitutional amendment and state action.

A constitutional amendment may be proposed and ratified by the states, thus largely bypassing Congress. There are two salient options here, both of which would drastically reduce the federal government’s overreaching. The first option is the imposition of a Congressional term limit.

Without the possibility of reelection, congressmen would be freed to act in the best interests of the country. But would they? Would pork spending then decrease? Or would parties merely grow in power, providing the continuity that formerly individual candidates did? The answers to these questions, pivotal as they are, could not be ascertained in advance.

Second, a constitutional amendment requiring a balanced federal budget could be proposed. An unlimited power of spending in effect removes all limitations on government. Without the ability to pay for new programs, and required even to cut old ones, the government would be hamstrung in its ability to usurp freedom.

The second route would emanate from the states and would be constituted by a revival of federalism. This is already occurring in some states: California’s disobedience to federal drug law and the Firearms Freedom Acts of Montana and Tennessee, which contravene federal gun law, signal a revival of states’ willingness to nullify federal legislation they deem unconstitutional.

Although dormant until recent years, the practice of state nullification of unconstitutional federal legislation stretches far back into our history, originating with the Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions of 1798, secretly authored by Thomas Jefferson and James Madison.

These acts, passed by their respective state legislatures, declared Congress’ Alien and Sedition Acts legally void. Stirred by perhaps similar anger at government overreaching, seven states in 2009 passed Tenth Amendment sovereignty resolutions declaring their willingness to resist unconstitutional federal behavior.

The Louisiana resolution, for instance, demands that “the federal government halt its practices of assuming powers and imposing mandates upon the states for purposes not enumerated by the Constitution of the United States of America.”

These are merely tentative outlines of paths the limited government movement could take to further its cause. Education and demonstrations, while useful in certain cases, are not sufficient to win the battle against the leviathan. As populist and antiestablishment anger rises, the libertarian movement must seize its opportunity to capitalize. How precisely to do this is a question of serious weight and deserves as much attention as any other issue from those who sincerely cherish their liberty.

Related Content:

Is The United States Built on a Foundation of Christian Principles? - Kimberly Ruff
Have We Learned Nothing? - Kimberly Ruff
The Catharsis of the American Civil War: How the Near Division of the United States Served to Strengthen the Union - Kimberly Ruff

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User Comments:
Brian R., on 2/06/2010 at 9:39am, said:

I dislike the polls which state "such and such number disagree with the direction the country is going" as if that any presidency takes the whole country into a certain direction or another. I remember hearing about a piece of legislation, maybe it was the stimulus or health care, but the people polled were asked their opinion on the legislation and then asked their opinion on all of the major pieces of legislation interior to it. It was found that many people opposed the legislation, but agreed with everything in it! This is telling that it is more of a partisan and anti-government feeling that people get riled up behind, rather than any real idea they have about it. Polls assume that people are really knowledgeable about current day politics, when most (including myself) really aren't. I don't read enough newspapers and the like to say I can be for or against most legislation.

Also the Brown election doesn't show anything anti-Obama, since the person running against him apparently was rather out of touch with the people and wouldn't go around shaking hands or campaigning. She was just a bad candidate.

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Liliana, on 8/23/2012 at 1:31pm, said:

Welfare is but a pimple on the great ass of the debt that Bush lalergy created. Why are you even talking about it? Kind of like other foolish conservative fixations with NPR, Planned Parenthood, the NEA, etc except this one is patently racist, typical of the Grand Old White Party that sported a record lack of diversity among delegates in the last RNC. Conservative media Fox News has invented and pounded a series of fake racially charged scandals' designed to make the white fear the blacks: ACORN, Van Jones, New Black Panthers, Shirly Sherrod, etc Not to change the subject, but why are you not looking at the big picture? Why are conservatives soooo preoccupied with entitlements to BLACKS? Obama's stimulus spending in 2009 and 2010 came to about $800 billion dollars had nothing to do with welfare but was lalergy a white persons corporate bailout' that amounted to about 5.8% of the total public debt that is now more than $14 trillion. The Bush tax cuts and the 2 wars account for at least $6 trillion in debt by comparison. (BTW The Bush tax cuts were not supposed to last forever. Alan Greenspan, whose endorsement was perhaps the single most decisive event in their passage, made it very clear that they were a temporary solution to a temporary surplus, a surplus thanks to the Clinton administration).66% of all income growth has been enjoyed by the top 1%. That is who the GOP is fighting for, the rich white people, against every poll that shows more than 70%+ of Americans feel the rich are not taxed enough. For 6 of his 8 years as president, Reagan taxed the top 1% far MORE than Obama has proposed. But Mr. Black President is a socialist'. The effective tax rate vs GDP was 18% under Reagan compared to 14.8% today. These are the facts. Your welfare theories are very well addressed above by commenter James', who is obviously your intellectual superior and a bit more connected to reality.

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