In 2008, I was happy to see the Republicans lose. I hoped that a crushing defeat would force them to reevaluate the direction that the Party had taken during the Bush years, and to finally turn against war, the surveillance state, and economic interventionism.
Needless to say, that reevaluation never occurred. If anything, the Romney campaign represented a doubling-down on Bush’s foreign policy–a doubling-down that reached its most absurd when, in his RNC acceptance speech, Romney darkly denounced President Obama for simply “talking to,” rather than attacking, Iran.
Likewise, on the economic front, Tea Partiers are a definite improvement over the rank-and-file from the Bush years. But even still, they tend to only envision a rolling back of the regulatory state to the level it was at in, say, 1982, rather than engaging in a fundamental rethinking of the entire post-New Deal philosophy. They may dislike Obamacare, but they don’t like to question its predecessor, Medicare, too deeply. And their rush to embrace Mitt Romney, who enacted the same healthcare plan in Massachusetts that the Tea Party denounces on the national level, should give any consistent conservative or libertarian pause.
My old hope, then, that the Republicans would reevaluate themselves turned out to be totally misplaced. But if the Republicans refused to reevaluate themselves after 2008 (or 1992, 1996, or 2006), then what reason is there to think that they’ll do so after 2012?
Indeed, even if they did reevaluate and suddenly returned to being the laissez-faire, non-interventionist party of Robert Taft that I’ve been waiting to see, I am not at all convinced that that would bring them any more electoral success than they actually got. However difficult it may be for some of this blog’s intended audience to accept, the masses of people who opposed Mitt Romney did not do so because they thought he was just a watered down version of Barack Obama (as many of us did). Instead, it seems that they voted against him because they actually bought into the Democrats’ caricatures of Republicans slashing government programs, or waging a “war on women,” or something–however little these caricatures actual correspond to the reality of Romney’s political career.
Yes, it is tempting to believe that everything would go swimmingly as long as the Republicans adopted my own beliefs. But I don’t see any evidence to believe that, at this point in time, my own beliefs are nationally popular (despite smaller-scale, encouraging signs).
Many commentators take this electoral rejection of libertarian principles as evidence that the Republican Party needs to give up its appeals to the “anti-government” crowd and go back to being the “moderate” party of Eisenhower and Nixon. Apparently, according to such people, the two-party system already gives voters too many choices–what we really need are two parties that offer only oh-so-slightly different variations of the same liberal platform.
But the argument for moderation misses the hugely important fact that the choice between, for instance, increasing or decreasing taxes on the rich is not simply a question of whether the majority gets to implement its will. Indeed, what is at stake is not really a question of will at all; it is a question of economic law, which can no more be defied than can the laws of gravity.
If the majority believed that the way to achieve social prosperity was to jump out of tall buildings and flap your arms until you fly away, then people who understand physics are duty-bound to demonstrate that the majority program is doomed to failure, regardless of whether people want to listen or not. The same is true regarding economic issues, whether taxation, debt, inflation, or Obamacare. People who understand economics and fear for the fate of their neighbors should not give ground and adopt their enemies’ program. Rather, if they really care about their neighbors’ well-being, then they should continue to expose the fallacies of the majority even more vigorously than before. It was in this spirit that the Austrian economist Ludwig von Mises identified as his life slogan, from Virgil’s Aeneid: “Tu ne cede malis, sed contra audentior ito.” (“Do not give in to evil, but proceed ever more boldly against it!”)
As far as economics is concerned, whether the Tea Party decides to moderate its rhetoric or whether Barack Obama can claim a mandate for higher taxes is entirely beside the point. Actions have consequences that democratic majorities cannot abolish. Higher taxes will stifle savings and investment, and therefore economic progress, regardless of whether voters want them. As Mises proclaimed, a failure to understand the economic consequences of certain political actions “will not annul economics,” but will instead simply lead to general destruction and impoverishment. (Human Action: The Scholar’s Edition, p. 881.) (For more detailed arguments on why taxing the rich is economically destructive, see, e.g., here, here, and here.)
Of course, there is little hope that the Republican Party will become an effective vehicle for these ideas. If after eight years of Bush and four of Obama the best they could give us was Mitt Romney, then I take that as ample evidence that they are incapable of changing. That’s not to say that we should neglect the opportunity to elect a Rand Paul or Justin Amash if the chance arises, or even to search for and recruit other like-minded candidates who are yet unknown. But I do believe that placing our hopes for the future on reforming the Republican Party is an enormous waste of time.
Rather, the long-term interests of libertarians and conservatives can only be served by looking “beyond the GOP.” Ultimately, politics is only the manifestation of underlying cultural and ideological forces–what people on this blog call the pre-political. If you can change people’s hearts and minds, then they will cease supporting awful people like Mitt Romney or Barack Obama, and politicians will have to adapt in turn.
Thankfully, culture is the area where libertarian ideas are meeting with their greatest success. Ron Paul became popular among the youth not by channeling Richard Nixon, as the cheerleaders for moderation would recommend, but by presenting a refreshing and radical alternative to the status quo. This is the same phenomenon that catapulted The Road to Serfdom to #1 on the Amazon bestseller list, eighteen years after its author’s death, and that made the fledgling Ludwig von Mises Institute–a tiny think-tank in the Alabama hinterlands, with no source of federal funds–a vibrant and hugely popular educational source for libertarian students and scholars all over the world.
In a sense, it is disheartening to know that there is no viable political party that represents our ideas. But the times that we live in are doing much of our recruitment for us. The manifest failures of statism are becoming clearer and clearer. As people begin to realize that persistent problems of economic stagnation, higher prices, and falling living standards are not going away, they will start looking for non-mainstream political alternatives. We see this now in Europe, although, there, popular dissatisfaction has been translating into support for fascistic parties like the Golden Dawn in Greece and for real, flesh-and-bones socialists in France.
Nevertheless, “more statism” need not be the only alternative to Obama or Romney’s middling interventionism. Our job must be to promote a plausible and humane option that people can turn to as a credible means of improving their lot. Such educational promotion doesn’t have the luster of an election campaign, but, with the political world as it is, it is the only permanent cure for statism.