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Will Libertarianism Set November's Post-Election Poitical Agenda?

Samuel Staley
October 9, 2010, 8:21am

Dick Morris and Eileen McGann have an article in National Review Online that makes the case for libertarianism becoming a domestic policiy agenda setter with the political rise of the Tea Party movement and ascendance of fiscal conservativism as a policy priority. They write:

"It is the fiscal conservatives and free-market supporters who own the Republican streets. Through the Tea Party, they have come to dominate the grassroots of the GOP. It is as if an invisible primary were held for supremacy at the grassroots and the Tea Party won.

"And social issues are nowhere on the Tea Party agenda. I recently participated in a conference call with tea-party affiliates throughout the country. During the question period that followed my speech, one leader of a local tea-party group asked a question about abortion. The conference-call leader jumped in before I could answer and ruled the query out of order. “Our priorities are to oppose taxes, support fiscal conservatism, and advance free-market principles,” she scolded the questioner. “We do not take a position on social issues like abortion,” she added.

"Along with this change has come a shift in what it takes to turn the litmus paper red enough to win Republican primaries. It used to be that abortion, gun control, and gay marriage were the hot-button issues, and anyone straying from orthodoxy was targeted in the primary and handicapped in the general election by a lackluster turnout. Now, a candidate’s social positions rarely even come up. It is fiscal and economic purity that rules the day. Anyone who voted for cap-and-trade is targeted in the primary. And there is no place for a candidate who ever backed a tax increase. Every candidate has to sign the no-tax pledge that Grover Norquist formulated for Americans for Tax Reform."

I would like to think this is true, but fiscal conservatism is not the same thing as libertarianism. Fiscal conservativism is a much narrower policy issue and can draw from large, broad, politically diverse base of support in the U.S. I think the Tea Party's success is based on its willingness to give fiscal policy issues the pre-eminent policy priority and ignore most other concerns and issues. Grappling with social issues (and perhaps even foreign policy issues) may well fracture the movement.


Samuel Staley is Research Fellow


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