Arnold Kling  

Notes from the Welch-Goldberg Show

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The event was billed as a debate Are Libertarians Part of the Conservative Movement? And, yes, both speakers talked about reversing the question.

The format consisted of 4-minute opening statements followed by one-minute responses to questions. It makes for lively entertainment, but not so much for serious discussion. Welch and Goldberg mostly played it mostly for laughs, which is all that the silly format really allowed.

1. Welch was optimistic that Republicans were willing to compromise with libertarians (he cited Jim DeMint's recent outreach efforts, not all of which are on the record.)

2. Both assumed that Mitt Romney will be the Republican nominee, thereby ducking the question of how libertarians might respond to a Santorum candidacy. Is there daylight between Santorum's brand of conservatism and W's? I would like to have gotten an informed answer, but no one asked the question.

3. Welch said that the demographics of Republican primary voters and caucus-goers is skewing very old. I am wondering if 2012 will be the swan song for voters born before 1960. I still think that the future of the Republican Party looks very dim. The last time a Republican establishment candidate suffered a meltdown during the nomination campaign, it did not turn out well for the GOP.

4. Welch and Goldberg took the view that the cascading U.S. debt will drive libertarians and conservatives into one another's arms, just as the Cold War battle with Communism did. I wonder how they would react to the conversation with Garett Jones, who believes that the debt problem will only be solved by a Democratic victory.

5. Both agreed that immigration is an issue where some libertarians (e.g., Ron Paul) and many conservatives take a stance that is more hostile to immigration than is morally or politically wise overall. But I would say they are overlooking the stridency of the Republican base on the issue. They make it sound as though it is an accident that the Republican candidates are not playing up the benefits of immigration. But I would say that this is where the influence of the Tea Party is decidedly not libertarian.

6. Welch tried to say that the Occupy movement has a healthy opposition to bailouts, but Goldberg was having none of it. His line was that the Occupiers are not opposed to bailouts; they just want to get their own bailouts, rather than have the money go to Wall Street. I tend to agree with Goldberg--I think you are kidding yourself as a libertarian if you think that shared opposition to bailing out Wall Street is the basis for some sort of alliance. [UPDATE: As he points out in the comments on this post, Welch is not so far from Goldberg on this. See Welch's Bailouts for Me, but not for Thee.]

7. Goldberg made at least two other points that I appreciated. The first one is that "the libertarian in the room asks the right question: Why is this a job for government?" Without the libertarian in the room, I would say that the question does not get asked.* The second one is that politicians always are a disappointment to their supporters. If nothing else, the pressure to win votes limits their ability to stick to principles.

*What I would say (Goldberg put it differently) is that without the libertarian in the room to question the role of government, the conversation proceeds more along the lines of the joke, "Something must be done. This is something. Therefore, it must be done."

[update: Glenn Reynolds has two related links.]


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COMMENTS (7 to date)

I'm upset I missed the event (it sounded interesting, despite its limited format), but I was surprised to hear neither really answered the question about a Santorum presidency. Welch might not have been thinking about it much at the time, but there have been a few pieces over at Reason lately talking about Santorum's revival of that famous "Compassionate Conservatism" we all came to know and hate during W's presidency (although we talk like Obama's "Doctrine of Fairness" is any different). I think more than anything, most libertarians and a good amount of conservatives write off Santorum (much like Gingrich, when looking at the big picture) because he lacks the resources and organization to mount a nationwide campaign, on top of the fact that once people start looking at him more deeply they more often than not go running for the fire escapes!

Becky Hargrove writes:

I think you're right that the important question would not even be asked if the libertarian were not in the room. But at the same time, the definition of libertarian becomes almost impossible to pin down because it asks about what is really a whole new reality. Even to call oneself libertarian is something that happens practically by default (or by lack of a better definition), for fewer people than ever interpret it to mean that the individual wants to exists without the cooperation of others in society.

Likewise, the idea of solutions that are not necessarily connected to money is important. Rather than a rejection of government, the libertarian today is more inclined to ask how can government be strenghthened by the purposeful action of its own citizens to create spontaneous economic activity.

MikeP writes:

The libertarian very much wants to exist with the cooperation of others in society.

The libertarian wants to exist without the coercion of others in society.

Chris Koresko writes:

Arnold Kling: "...Without the libertarian in the room to question the role of government, the conversation proceeds more along the lines of the joke, "Something must be done. This is something. Therefore, it must be done."

That is a brilliant way to put it, but I don't quite agree.

My problem is that conservatives are also worrying about whether what's proposed is justified by the Constitution. Wasn't it a (non-Paul) Republican who wanted every bill to have its Constitutional authority specified explicitly?

Matt Welch writes:

I think you are misrepresenting my remark about OWS.

I said something like "About the *only* worthwhile critique by the OWS crowd has been about the unfairness of crony capitalism." I did not imply anything like a promising alliance there; I was more making the point that opposition to (some) bailout economics is broadly popular across the political spectrum, even Occupy Wall Street. I have written extensively at Reason about exactly what Jonah went on to say -- that OWS is filled with people who want Bailouts For Me, Not Thee (the headline on a column I wrote for Reason).

John T. Kennedy writes:

"Both agreed that immigration is an issue where some libertarians (e.g., Ron Paul) and many conservatives take a stance that is more hostile to immigration than is morally or politically wise overall."

While RP has ostensibly adopted the paleocon anti-immigration position, it's clear to me his heart isn't in it. In the debates his natural libertarian position shows through.

John T. Kennedy writes:

That conversation with Garret Jones could have benefited from having a libertarian in the room.

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