Dave Nalle on the GOP's growing libertarian movement

Social libertarianism is now challenging the Religious Right. Younger Republicans tend to be socially moderate. What does this all mean?  Photo: The Republican Liberty Caucus

FLORIDA, February 16, 2012 — One of the GOP’s key voting blocs is the Religious Right, which consists of fundamentalist Christians.Tthese Republicans are not in line with social libertarianism. Eventually, might this result in a serious intra-party conflict?

It has been noted that younger Republicans are far more moderate than preceding generations on social policy. During the years ahead, might social issues fall by the wayside and be replaced by fiscal as well as national security concerns? Speaking of national security, it is a subject on which libertarians are criticized due to their almost peacenik stances. Generally speaking, do libertarian Republicans differ from the stereotype?

Dave Nalle is the chairman of the Republican Liberty Caucus, an organization devoted to promoting the ideas of limited government. He is also a columnist here at The Washington Times Communities. In this second part of our discussion, he shares his answers to the aforementioned questions.

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Joseph F. Cotto: One of the GOP’s key voting blocs is the Religious Right, which consists of fundamentalist Christians. These Republicans are not in line with social libertarianism. Eventually, do you believe that this will result in a serious intra-party conflict?

Dave Nalle: Some fundamentalist Christians are very libertarian in their beliefs. They understand that the governmental restraint which is central to libertarianism works to their benefit in protecting them from government interference in their religious life. Like Ron Paul, who is very religious, they value the independence of their churches and want to keep government from promoting any ideology through the schools or its other programs. While they do not support social libertarianism they understand that if government can dictate lifestyle decisions it’s a knife which cuts both ways.

For example, if government can tell you who you can or can’t marry then it can tell you who you must marry. They understand that it’s better for everyone if areas of personal behavior which harm no one else are kept personal and that the government should butt out.

Where we do run into problems with the religious right is with those small but influential groups which believe that they should promote their beliefs by using government as an instrument to impose them on other people. They don’t understand that this is a terrible practice which can be turned against them and they use tactics which are essentially the same as the secular humanists from the left who are their greatest enemies. Ultimately I don’t see much future for this element in the Republican Party or even in mainstream politics.

When they are fanatical about forcing their beliefs on everyone through legislation they make themselves so unpopular that they become a political liability which no party can afford to get involved with. 

The incident in the last election with extreme statements from Todd Akin demonstrates how damaging religious extremism can be to a party which needs to attract independents and moderates. Akin’s statements and similar ones from several other candidates cost us not only the seats they were running for, but spilled over and probably cost Republicans about 2% of their support nationwide, which did enormous damage. Whether libertarian or not, party leaders realize that we cannot afford to carry that kind of liability. 

Cotto: It has been noted that younger Republicans are far more moderate than preceding generations on social policy. During the years ahead, do you expect social issues to fall by the wayside and be replaced by fiscal as well as national security concerns?

Nalle: Polling suggests that despite a lot of holdover rhetoric from some Republican leaders the base of the party is becoming much more socially tolerant. This does not mean that Republicans themselves are becoming more socially progressive, but they have come to embrace a more live and let live perspective and understand that it’s just bad policy to try to legislate personal moral decisions. Most Republicans would just like to stay away from these issues and let people sort them out for themselves.

As you point out, in the near future fiscal issues are going to be a much more serious concern and we can’t afford to let disagreement over social views weaken us as advocates for more responsible government. Someone needs to bring this country back from the brink of fiscal disaster. The Democrats certainly aren’t going to do it, so we have to make the Republican Party politically viable in order to roll back the out of control spending and massive debt we have taken on.

This is going to require some very difficult decisions and you need a strong party which can weather some criticism to make those decisions and stick by them. Republicans are going to have to bite the bullet and roll back a lot of what their own party did during the Bush years. Medicare Part B is going to have to go and we need to take a serious look at foreign policy and military spending. We cannot afford to spend $700 billion a year defending other countries, fighting wars overseas and rebuilding the countries where those wars were fought.

That’s just completely unsupportable in our current fiscal situation. Republicans will always support a strong defense, but we need to rethink what actually makes us strong, and a collapsing economy and spendthrift government weaken us and may be the greatest threat to our national security.

Cotto: National security is a subject on which libertarians are criticized due to their almost peacenik stances. Generally speaking, do libertarian Republicans differ from the stereotype?

Nalle: It’s true that a “peacenik” element has been attracted to the GOP by the Ron Paul campaign. Some of his supporters are in the anarchistic section of the libertarian spectrum and have very strong views on war which are sometimes hard to tell from those of the political left. Those folks are small in number and tend to be vocal but are ultimately politically disengaged and have little ifluence. However, there is a very strong tradition of non-interventionism even in the mainstream libertarian movement, originating in the non-aggression principle, which basically opposes coercive action against others except in self-defense.

On that basis many libertarians believe that the government should be strictly limited in how it can use the military, and that the focus should be on protecting our territory and citizens, and that foreign interventions should certainly be avoided.

What many don’t realize is that this philosophy does not necessarily oppose the military or having a strong national defense. Our ability to defend ourselves is stronger when we don’t overextend our military resources by committing to nationbuilding and defending other countries which ought to be able to defend themselves. Ronald Reagan’s strategy of peace through strength is not very far from libertarian ideas on foreign policy. Reagan only had one foreign war and it lasted for just a few days and was launched to defend American citizens in Granada. Similarly, he did not deploy troops in other countries, with a brief exception in Lebanon which he later described as the worst decision of his presidency.

I think that ultimately Liberty Republicans will reach an accommodation with the war hawks in the party and settle on a sensible foreign policy based around free trade and defending America’s territory, citizens and immediate interests within the boundaries set by the Constitution and without the kind of international adventurism which has led to so much trouble in the last two administrations.



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Joseph Cotto

Joseph F. Cotto is a social journalist by trade and student of history by lifestyle choice. He hails from central Florida, writing about political, economic, and social issues of the day. In the past, he was a contributor to Blogcritics Magazine, among other publications. He is currently at work on a book about American society.

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