Dear Liberty Movement,
Regarding Joel Kurtinitis’ open letter to social conservatives, it is only appropriate to reply with another open letter. I am as qualified to act as a representative for all social conservatives as Kurtinitis is qualified to represent the liberty movement.
The first part of his letter centers on what he perceives to be a lack of consistency on the part of social conservatives. The inconsistencies you cite in your bill of particulars aren’t so much a matter of hypocrisy. Instead social conservatives have drawn a different conclusion based on different reasons than you perceive. In some cases Kurtinitis actually discusses two unrelated issues.
Also in some instances, he assumes a universal social conservative belief where none exists. While he claims there is a diversity of opinion in the Liberty Movement, he seems to assert there is no diversity of opinion within social conservatives or the traditional base of the Republican Party.
For example, he says:
You wrestle with the godlessness of public schools, but shy away from the thought of eliminating the Department of Education and privatizing schools.
This is stated as if every social conservative were uniformly against eliminating the Department of Education. The author of this piece certainly would be in favor of getting rid of the Department of Education and many social conservative campaigns for President have had that as a platform plank such as those of Alan Keyes in 2000. There are divides on several other issues such as how to prosecute the war on terror.
Beyond that issue, Kurtinitis makes an assumption that the two ideas of opposing godlessness in public education and opposing the Department of Education are somehow inextricably linked when they aren’t. One can feel that schools ought to make more space for God and teach character education while also feeling that a Department of Education is needed to apply regulations for special education or some other end.
Kurtinitis urged social conservatives to not “be defensive,” and will doubtlessly feel that I’ve violated that injunction. However, that’s not a reasonable expectation when a letter begins by making several broad general accusations against a large group of of people that are not true. He states:
You rail against foreign aid, but are unwilling to even consider ending taxpayer-funded aid to Israel, who has told us that they don’t need it.
Kurtinitis’ assumption is flawed. We are not absolutists on foreign aid.
Do social conservatives rail against some foreign aid? Sure. We rail against foreign aid to regimes unfriendly to the United States who take our money and then burn our flag in their streets and send terrorists to attack our nation. We rail against foreign aid that turns our nation into abortion missionaries, spreading death and destruction through the promotion of abortion.
We don’t regret the money that was spent to give hope to the captive peoples of the world during the Cold War with Radio Free Europe and Radio Free Asia. We don’t begrudge the money expended to feed those in Europe and Asia after World War II who were dying of starvation. We don’t regret the money that we paid as part of the Marshall Plan after World War II. It was a small price we paid to not have to fight World War III.
We don’t regret the money spent during George W. Bush’s AIDS initiative without which millions of people in Africa would be dead. And we do not regret for a second providing support to Isreal the only true democracy and friend of the United States in the Middle East.
It may be that libertarian consistency and purity demands that we condemn these uses of money for foreign aid, but that would be why we’re not libertarians.
You oppose government pork-barrel spending… unless it’s going to faith-based initiatives.
Pork barrel spending is unnecessary wasteful spending usually directed to a specific congressman’s district. Faith based initiatives allowed faith based organizations to compete for contracts that delivered federal services that would have been delivered anyway, usually at a lower cost and with better results. The two have nothing to do with each other.
After nearly seven hundred words filled with broad attacks on conservatives as rank hypocrites, you call for unity between social conservatives and libertarians based on social conservatives conceding to the demands of libertarians because, “The more consistent our ideology, the stronger our identity and our message. “
This is political nonsense. It is possible for certain people to be very united and consistent and message, but for that not to lead to victory. The American Communist Party, the supporters of Lyndon LaRouche, and the Libertarian Party have been very consistent and have failed in every way as an electoral force. It is possible to be consistent and be viewed as a consistent nut.
The rest of the piece is a bit of a muddle. On one hand, social conservatives are pleaded with and told that the conservative movement is the older brother of the Liberty Movement. The Liberty Movement is described as brash and impetuous and picking necessary fights for which conservative help is needed. Later, Kurtinitis urges social conservatives to “learn the rules of the political game.” Is the Liberty Movement the wise elder statesmen giving us sage advice or the hotheaded youth stirring up a bunch of battles. Or is it supposed to be both?
Certainly when the interest and principles of social conservatives and libertarians coincide, we’ll unite and work together as we have in the past but the call to assimilate social conservatives into the libertarian intellectual collective isn’t going to happen.
The way our support for traditional values is treated is illustrative of a deeper issue. Kurtinitis said, “We know you’re passionate about life and marriage, and that’s okay,” as if you were referring to us enjoying the filmoraphy of Jimmy Durante. The assumption of the post is that these cultural issues are mere trifles which keep us from addressing the big issues of preserving the constitution and stopping big government.
With all due respect, libertarians have it exactly backwards. We are losing our constitutional liberty because we have lost our way morally. President John Adams declared, “Avarice, ambition, revenge, or gallantry would break the strongest cords of our Constitution as a whale goes through a net. Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”
President Adams’ point is that the necessary size of government is not a set cosmological rule. If people are less moral people, if families are weaker, that will invite more government intrusion into the lives of citizens.
And to that end, libertarians blithe attitudes towards the state of our culture is rarely helpful. Nowhere is that better illustrated that the libertarian love affair with narcotics. Kurtinitis divides the libertarian view on drugs nicely, “Some want to legalize drugs to use drugs. Others want to legalize drugs because we think that a government that can tell you what you’re allowed to ingest is more dangerous than any drug.”
So either way, they would like to legalize drugs, and it’s worth noting that Kurtinitis makes no distinction between marijuana and “hard drugs,” such as heroin, cocaine, or meth as to what would be legalized. While certain policies in the war on drugs are wrong or abusive, the idea of legalizing meth and heroin is insane.
And would this legalization of drugs make us more religious or moral people? Or would it make us a more drug-adled society that is less capable of self-government and will therefore invite even more government into our lives?
Perhaps, the oddest part of the letter is that the shift to libertarian issues and focuses is called for is for because social conservative issues are not winning political issues. That begs a question. How electorally feasible are their plans?
Take as a mild example, the call to eliminate the Department of Education. This is not an issue that hasn’t been tried in conservative campaigns. Rather, when conservative candidates have run on the issue, the left has always been able to confuse opposing a wasteful Washington, DC bureaucracy that is unhelpful and unproductive in terms of educating kids with opposing education itself. This is hardly a winning issue at the polls and no libertarian has found a successful defense to the leftist attacks.
Beyond this, Kurtinitis calls for legalizing cocaine, heroin, and meth in your letter as well as repealing all regulations on businesses whatsoever. Thus, we are asked to believe that a winning message would be something such as:
“What we need in our society is legal cocaine. If an eighteen-year-old overdoses and kills himself, that’s his right.
“And let me say this. It’s time for us to abolish child labor laws. If a business wants to hire a a poor eight year old to work in a sweatshop eighteen hours a day, seven days a week in a building that’s about to topple over while using rusty equipment, that’s none of the government’s concern as long as their meth-addicted parents will let them.
“We need to abolish student loans and Pell Grants. If your children would like to pay for college and can’t get scholarships, they should be able to to do so working as prostitutes. Vote for us, we’re consistent.”
While my examples might be a tad extreme, they all are based on the principles you you laid for in your letter. To argue that consistent libertarianism as defined by Kurtinitis is a winning message seems bizarre. In the end, it may be because there are so few “consistent” libertarians. There are quite a few people who oppose Obamacare but don’t want their children to have access to legal heroin or to have a brothel opened up down the street from their homes. While social conservative ideas aren’t an easy sell, they are far more salable than “consistent” libertarianism.
While I appreciate striving for consistency, it is not a realistic pursuit in the political realm beyond being consistent with your own principles. Some principles which libertarians have declared universal axioms may be viewed by people of good will as only be true in some circumstances. And others may agree with libertarians on a particular point, but they do so based on a different worldview and disagree with libertarians on dozens of other points.
The key to successful cooperation is the willingness of libertarians to work in coalition on the essential issues of the day while being respectful of people who honestly disagree with some of their ends and means.