A recent CNN poll asked voters to rank the importance of the war issue: 48 percent said it is "extremely important," while 38 percent averred it’s "very important." The same poll shows overwhelming opposition to the war (62 percent, and climbing), and the shocker 56 percent believe the war was a mistake, while a mere 40 percent disagree with the latter figure the lowest on record. The bad news for Republicans: when it comes to Iraq, voters would rather have Democrats in charge (51 percent). After all, a Republican administration, aided and abetted by a rubber-stamp GOP-controlled Congress, lied to them: according to a Newsweek poll, a whopping 58 percent say Bush and his team "purposely misled the public about evidence that Iraq had banned weapons in order to build support for war."
Although their reaction to the Bush administration’s campaign of deception hasn’t yet reached Hungarian levels of outrage, the American people are in a vengeful mood. Someone has to be held responsible for what one retired American general calls "the greatest strategic disaster" in American military history. Come November, that someone is going to be their local Republican congressional candidate. Around January or so, it’s likely to be Scooter Libby, that is if he isn’t pardoned before the trial starts. Libby is one of the biggest arachnids at the center of the neocon web, where the lies were spun and the threads of Ahmed Chalabi‘s fantasies were woven into swirling psychedelic patterns of faux "intelligence." Down the road, the likely victim is a Republican presidential candidate, who will be forced to run with an iron albatross hung ’round his neck, and it’s going to be downhill all the way the same direction the military campaign on the ground in Iraq is headed.
Voter vengefulness seems about to hand the Democrats a double victory: both the House and the Senate are now in play. That’s because, in this political atmosphere, those who turn out will be motivated by a "throw the bums out" mentality. They’re angry at being lied into war, and they have someone to blame: the Republicans. They don’t know or care that the Democrats, in many instances, are not much better than Republicans on this issue. Their allegiance, if it can be called that, is purely negative. These are not Democrats, but anti-Republicans.
The rise of the GOP as the party of authoritarianism and war has created a movement that is inchoately opposed to our foreign policy of global interventionism and passionately concerned about the erosion of civil liberties and our constitutional order. It is a rising tide of quasi-libertarian sentiment, one that has no political expression outside a purely negative "activism" throwing the bums out. There is no real awareness of what these new bums are all about, nothing but the vague hope that things will get better and the fear that they could be much, much worse.
It is not love of the Democrats but fear of the Republicans that swells the ranks of the "netroots." This is not your father’s GOP: the libertarian strain of the Republican Party, once vibrant, has been all but exterminated by the post-9/11 GOP loyalists, whose ideology is as far removed from the anti-statism of the old Goldwater movement as it is possible to get. They have, however, retained the foreign policy radicalism of the Goldwaterites, whose battle cry, at the height of the Vietnam debacle, was "Why not victory?"
In the dystopian post-9/11 incarnation of this Bizarro GOP, the party’s traditional devotion to individual rights, the sanctity of the Constitution, and the value of prudence as the guiding principle of a truly conservative foreign policy has been inverted. The repeal of habeas corpus, the rise of the surveillance state, the cult of the leader, and a foreign policy of perpetual war out of what Orwellian nightmare is this party sprung?
Made up of evangelical Christians and neoconservatives, with the latter in the drivers’ seat and the former pulling the bandwagon, the post-9/11 Bizarro GOP embraces the American version of Ingsoc: War is Peace, Freedom is Slavery, Ignorance is Strength. There is, as I have noted before, a distinctly Soviet air about the self-conscious revolutionism and grandiosity of this administration’s foreign policy initiatives: "liberation," "global democratic revolution," "a fire in the mind" these are all words and phrases routinely employed by Bush’s speechwriters. As a result, the pronouncements of official Washington are more and more coming to resemble the fiery manifestos Lenin emblazoned on the front page of Pravda, circa 1920.
This is, as the Marxists used to say, no accident: many of the leading neocon cadre, present as well as past, came out of the old Trotskyist tradition, where grandiosity and high-flown "revolutionary" rhetoric were their stock in trade. In their journey from Left to Right, the neocons abandoned all their old ideological baggage except the two parcels dearest to their hearts: authoritarianism and eternal war. Although wars abroad have taken the place of the class struggle at home, the idea is essentially the same. Life is conflict, and might makes right: these are the psychological roots of the new dominationism, a politics that upholds the practice of torture as a matter of high principle.
In today’s GOP, we are dealing with a party of a new type, at least in the context of American history. Lew Rockwell calls this emerging trend "red-state fascism," the existence of which is increasingly confirmed by the legislative initiatives and rhetoric of the Republican leadership. The passage of the Military Commissions Act [.pdf] which gives the president the power to designate an American citizen an "illegal combatant" and send him to prison without trial marks a milestone on the road to red-state fascism. Organized support for such measures is the closest we have yet come in this country to a genuinely fascist movement. Combined with an ideological commitment to presidential supremacism in wartime i.e., semi-permanently and glorification of militarism in what might almost be called the Prussian style, this party, in power, radically undermines the constitutional order and threatens the overthrow of our old republic.
If the Republicans continue down this path, such moderates as have managed to hold out against the rising red-state fascist tide will be swept away, or leave of their own volition. This will hand the party over to the more radical elements, the hard core who really believe that the media is losing the war in Iraq and equate the antiwar movement with, as Andrew Sullivan once put it, a "fifth column on both coasts." These people dream of the day Noam Chomsky is declared an "illegal combatant," Seymour Hersh is forced to flee to Canada, and David Horowitz is appointed secretary of reeducation.
In any case, the GOP is no place for libertarians of any sort: in its present form, the Republican Party is the spearhead of a movement that targets our most basic liberties. Its leaders and chief ideologists are authoritarians, pure and simple, with no more feeling for the distinctively American love of liberty than a Soviet commissar or a Prussian Junker. Yes, there is a more "reasonable" wing of the GOP the old Bush I faction, which is out of power and likely to remain without much real influence. They are all leaders, and not foot soldiers: the party rank-and-file is opposed to them, both temperamentally and ideologically.
The recent essay by Democratic Party activist and DailyKos.com founder Markos Moulitsas welcoming libertarians into the fold couldn’t have come at a more opportune time. Moulitsas writes with sincerity about his own political evolution from a Republican with libertarian sympathies into one of the key leaders of the "netroots" movement that is determined, as he puts it, to effect a "reformation" of the Democratic Party. While showing some appreciation for the free market, Moulitsas mounts a surprisingly radical defense of the Second Amendment, bemoans the rise of corporate power, and rightly points to the connection between government and America’s board rooms as a clear and present danger. He then avers that government is our only protection against corporations empowered by the government. I’ll leave this last as a testament to his earlier statement that he is "neither a theorist, political scientist, nor a philosopher." Rather than engage the debate on that level, I’ll simply point out that principled libertarians fancy themselves all three, in many cases, and that this is precisely the advantage in joining the Democratic Party. We have a philosophy, and no party: they have a party, and no philosophy. Whether the two are a fit depends on the circumstances and pragmatic considerations.
Moulitsas instinctively understands the crisis we are in, and unlike his critics, notably Nick Gillespie of Reason magazine and various Catoids he perceives that the central issue is the question of war and peace:
"The nation’s current wars have given conservatives yet more excuses to make a mockery of the protections we supposedly enjoy under the Bill of Rights, from the PATRIOT Act, to the NSA spying on American citizens, to violations of habeas corpus. Republicans seem to have even abandoned even more fundamental constitutional principles, such as ‘separation of powers.’ As chief Bush legal theorist John Yoo wrote in his book, War by Other Means:
‘We are used to a peacetime system in which Congress enacts the laws, the president enforces them, and the courts interpret them. In wartime, the gravity shifts to the executive branch.’
"This isn’t a party committed to anyone’s personal freedoms."
He’s got that one right, for sure. His critics, however, are clueless when it comes to the empowerment of the State effected by this administration’s foreign policy of relentless aggression. Nary a single one even mentions foreign policy in general, or the Iraq war in particular, except in passing, as an issue on which libertarians and Democratic Party activists can find common ground. One Cato scholar asks, rhetorically, "show me the libertarianism" a challenge one might put to the Cato Institute itself in regard to certain key issues, such as Israel’s recent invasion of Lebanon and the supposed benefits of the U.S. invading Pakistan.
The Cato Ubound format potentially useful in discussing libertarian ideas with potential allies, as well as adversaries features a lead essay by someone like Moulitsas, framed by a number of responses from Cato Institute scholars and hangers-on. But the veritable chorus of hisses and catcalls that greeted Moulitsas’ respectful overture was outrageously boorish, as well as intellectually dishonest and unworthy. Typical is Reason editor Gillespie’s screed, which is nothing more than an exercise in exhibitionism, as is so much of Gillespie’s prose. He wastes whole paragraphs raving about "couples porn" and showing his expertise when it comes to the X-rated film industry: this is merely boring. It’s when he gets to the real meat of the issue, however, that his tiresome solipsism becomes harmful rather than merely annoying:
"When it comes to foreign policy, I’m curious where Moulitsas and Reed stand regarding Bill Clinton, who was far more promiscuous in his use of the military than he ever was with pizza-wielding interns: According to a 2000 Cato analysis, Clinton set a then-record for major troop deployments, with 25 during his eight years in office (twice the amount that occurred under Ronnie Raygun). If Iraq was a war of choice and it was then what about Clinton’s interventions in the former Yugoslavia and elsewhere? And as awful as the Bush administration is on privacy and civil liberties, it’s not as if the last Democratic president (and his terrible attorney general) didn’t give rise for concern. The Clinton administration pushed the draconian Communications Decency Act, the ‘Clipper’ chip, the ‘V’ chip, and a host of other idiotic measures that have either thankfully been struck down by the courts or routed around thanks to new technology."
When Gillespie and his fellow "lifestyle libertarians" hear the word "decency," they reach for their revolvers. But seriously, wasn’t the invasion of Iraq more than a mere "war of choice"? Didn’t it portend a foreign policy that ensures us more than a lifetime of conflict, declaring a state of war between two civilizations? As much as Antiwar.com opposed Clinton’s vicious attack on the former Yugoslavia we were founded in that era and fought a lonely battle exposing its folly does it really need to be pointed out that not a single American soldier set foot in Belgrade, or anywhere else on Yugoslav soil? There was no occupation, except of Kosovo, and the casualty count on both sides is not even remotely comparable to what is happening in Iraq today. More importantly, Clinton did not embrace a foreign policy of aggression as a matter of high principle, nor was foreign policy the central arena of his administration’s activity. Do all 25 troop deployments under Clinton add up to one tenth of the boots on the ground in Iraq? Of course not.
What really riles Gillespie is not mass murder by the State, but the "clipper chip," the "V-chip," and any legislation with the word "decency" in it. Decency?! For Gillespie and the "if it feels good, do it" faction of the libertarian movement, them’s fightin’ words! War, on the other hand, is just another side issue for libertarians to "debate." Reason magazine did not take an editorial position on the war: rather, they opened it up for "discussion," giving pro-war "libertarians" including Brink Lindsey of the Cato Institute and their own resident neocons, Michael Young and Ron Bailey more-than-equal space and opportunity to ply their wares. Now that the war is unpopular, of course, Reason has been a bit shy in showcasing this side of their "libertarian" sensibility although the loquacious (and unbearably pretentious) Michael Young still bloviates about why, for example, the Israelis were essentially right to invade Lebanon, and how Bush is botching what was, he insists, a war on behalf of Arab "liberalism." The war, say Young and his fellow neocons, might have inspired "revolutions" throughout the Muslim world, if only it had been executed correctly.
Having allowed his magazine to contribute a certain level of noise to the neoconservative echo chamber, Gillespie now complains that the Democrats are not consistent anti-interventionists. You’ll pardon me if I fail to take this line of argument coming from him too seriously.
I have to add that Reason exists due to the large contributions of its corporate sponsors, all of whom are staunch Republicans: it is hard to imagine the editor of such a publication tweaking the noses of his benefactors in such a painful manner as to suggest defection to the other side of the aisle. A little obscenity and numerous references to drug use and The Simpsons is fine but that about defines the limits of what he is able to get away with. As long as "libertarians" of the Gillespie-ite dispensation stay in their subsidized playpen and accept their role as slightly stoned "South Park Republicans," they can continue to bring home the bacon and keep their nonprofit wheels spinning.
Unlike Gillespie and, on a higher level, most of the Cato crowd Moulitsas and the Democratic "netroots" understand the key connection between war and Big Government, and are resolved to do something about it. No, Moulitsas is not a consistent libertarian by any means, but, then, neither Reason nor Cato represents anything that might be considered the plumb-line libertarian position.
What is attractive about Moulitsas’ overture is his openness to libertarian ideas, and his eagerness to engage them: even as he tries to refute what he undoubtedly considers the more doctrinaire aspects of libertarianism, consistently applied, he shows the value of such a dialogue. After all, in this discussion, libertarians are defining the terms of the debate, with the archaic New Deal liberalism of the big-city Democratic Party bosses on the defensive and Moulitsas’ "Western Democrats" with libertarian sympathies in the ascendant.
This is an overture libertarians can hardly refuse. The rise of red-state fascism as the dominant ideology of the Republican Party constitutes a crisis sufficiently serious to impress on us that the organized libertarian movement needs to declare a state of emergency. While the long-term case for optimism remains as valid as ever, the short-term prospects for liberty are not only dim, they are ominously dark. Given this reality, it is imperative that libertarians form a united front with all those anti-Republican forces that can be mobilized under a single banner, and that means the Democrats.
Libertarians are all too familiar with the election laws that prohibit third parties from offering an electoral alternative to the two-party monopoly. This, in a country that proposes to "export democracy" to the far shores of the Caspian Sea and beyond! The reality is that libertarians must work within one of the two major parties to achieve their goals: I won’t go into the case for or against the Libertarian Party as a strategic option, except to say that the LP has effectively eliminated itself as a contender by throwing out most of its platform, and, in the process, ending the appeal it once had to anyone seeking a coherent alternative to the bipartisan mush of major party politics.
The moral-ideological argument for libertarian-Republican divorce proceedings is clear to anyone with eyes to see what is happening in this country, and on the increasingly bloody battlefields of Iraq. Strategically, the argument is equally compelling. No one is joining the GOP these days unless they’re dyed-in-the-wool authoritarians and/or frothy-mouthed warmongers. On the other side of the barricades, many thousands of antiwar activists are working for Democratic candidates, and those frightened to death of the Republican assault on civil liberties are getting involved, too.
That’s why Gillespie’s references to the Clinton era are so dishonest. Is the Communications Decency Act really comparable to the PATRIOT Act or the Military Commissions Act? Does the Kosovo war even begin to approach, in terms of scale and sheer wrong-headed hubris, the invasion of Iraq and the attempt to "transform" the Middle East at gunpoint? These questions answer themselves, and raise another one: why is Gillespie making these idiotic arguments?
Libertarians should have no compunction about going to where their best audiences reside. In 1930, we were considered extreme Republicans, and allied ourselves with the anti-New Deal coalition that made up the Old Right. In the 1970s, we broke with the conservative movement, staked out a staunchly antiwar position on the Vietnam question, and made a conscious decision to recruit from the Left. The Reagan years saw a shift in the political atmosphere in the country, and the direction indicated by our strategic compass shifted accordingly. Today, we face an entirely new situation, one that does not augur well for the future of liberty. Those "libertarians" who are, for all intents and purposes, a cheering section for the Republican Party or who, like Gillespie, counsel abstention from any alliance that could threaten the GOP’s hold on power are truly quislings, i.e., collaborators with fascism. As such, they are beneath contempt: the only proper response is complete ostracism of them and all their works.
The rise of the "libertarian Democrats" comes in the nick of time. At this moment of crisis, why not reclaim the party of Thomas Jefferson for his beleaguered heirs? Come to think of it, that’s a much better designation for libertarians: Jeffersonian Democrats has a nice, salable ring to it, giving the nascent movement an instant history firmly rooted in the American tradition, subtly separating them out from their GOP-dependent black sheep brothers who linger in Republican pastures. The appellation also has the added advantage of at least implying the key element of Jeffersonian Democratic principles: a return to the foreign policy of the Founding Fathers, who counseled against entangling alliances and lived in such mortal dread of militarism that they refused to endorse the concept of a standing army.
The tasks of libertarians in the present dark epoch are achingly clear: we must stop the red-state fascist juggernaut before it flattens what is left of our old republic. The neoconservative coup-plotters who seized control of the country in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 fear a Democratic sweep of Congress this November for a very good reason, and it has nothing to do with tax hikes, re-regulation, or any of the other bugaboos routinely trotted out to scare libertarian-oriented voters into the Republican column. These guys know that many of them will face indictments, jail time, and public disgrace if Congress gets around to investigating how and why we were lied into war. Scooter Libby’s co-conspirators and there are plenty of them honeycombed the U.S. government, with cells in every high-level agency energetically funneling "intelligence" they knew to be false to the White House, Congress, and the American people. If the Democrats win big and the investigations go forward, Pat Fitzgerald will have plenty of new material to work with, and, once this can of worms is opened, the anacondas that come crawling out will stun the nation and mark a qualitative step forward for the cause of peace.
That alone is sufficient cause for entering a popular front with the Democrats, but not, I hasten to add, with any illusions about the uphill nature of the fight for the soul of that party. The neocons have a foot in both camps, and the Democratic Establishment is determinedly centrist, vehemently interventionist, and openly supportive of the Iraq war, while criticizing Bush for bad execution of an essentially correct policy. The Democratic Leadership Council, the Progressive Policy Institute, and, not least of all, The New Republic and the Beinart–Lieberman wing of the party all these actors point to the extensive colonization effort undertaken by the War Party in Democratic circles.
The two-party system is essential to the War Party’s strategy for making sure that the American people have little say insofar as the actual conduct of U.S. foreign policy is concerned. By blocking the emergence of a major-party antiwar, anti-interventionist presidential candidate, they can circumvent majority opinion by offering the voters an echo rather than a real choice. Arrayed against our putative Jeffersonian Democrats are the urban party bosses, the union bosses, and the foreign lobbyists, all of whom are likely to resist calls for a "reformation" of the Democratic Party. They’re doing just fine, thank you, lording it over their private fiefdoms, and are likely to resent any effort to rock the boat especially if this means taking it in a libertarian direction.
The great advantage of the Jeffersonian Democrat project, however, more than outweighs the negatives. The Democratic Party is out of ideas: ideologically, their leaders and "theoreticians" are remarkably barren. There is a great emptiness at the core of their politics, one that cries out to be filled. Like the Goldwater movement in the GOP, the "netroots" phenomenon among the Democrats is a purely negative phenomenon: they are against Bush, against his foreign policy, against his gutting of the Constitution, against torture, against the red-state fascism that scares the bejesus out of them and keeps them up at night, wondering if, perhaps, this is the end.
These people need to be educated, and, what’s more, many of them are educating themselves: Moulitsas’ essay proves that. So does the great overlap in readership between Antiwar.com and DailyKos.com. It’s only natural, in this time of war and the Military Commissions Act, that opponents of the present administration would rally together in common cause.
Libertarians have nothing to lose but their chains both ideological and financial to a movement that has morphed into a peculiarly American form of neofascism. They have a party to win. All hail the Jeffersonian Democrats and let the Democratic reformation begin! Now all we need is for someone to nail 95 theses to Hillary Clinton’s door, starting with this one.