OCALA, Fla., September 23, 2013 — For better or for worse, libertarianism is on the upswing in the Republican Party.
A new poll from the rightish special interest group FreedomWorks has made this undeniably clear.
“Civil liberties and spending issues are scrambling the old foundations of the Republican Party,” FreedomWorks Vice President of Opinion Research David Kirby was quoted as saying on his group’s website. “In the 1980’s, Ronald Reagan called the Republican coalition a three-legged stool of individual freedom, traditional values, and defense.
“Today it’s a lopsided stool. Forty percent of Republican voters said they are most interested in promoting ‘individual freedom through lower taxes and reducing the size and scope of government,’ versus 27 percent ‘traditional values’ or 18 percent ‘strong national defense.’”
Jason Pye of United Liberty, a libertarian blog, further explained the poll’s findings: “68% of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents agree with the statement that ‘individuals should be free to do as they like as long as they don’t hurt others, and that the government should keep out of people’s day-to-day lives.’
“What’s more, an eye-popping 78% of Republicans consider themselves to be ‘fiscally conservative, but socially moderate,’ which is a significant finding given the debate in the GOP on social issues.”
This raises the question of what the future holds for fundamentalist Christian conservatives, an overwhelming number of whom have gravitated toward the GOP in recent decades. This voting bloc constitutes what is often referred to as the “Religious Right”.
“Some fundamentalist Christians are very libertarian in their beliefs,” explained Dave Nalle, Chairman of the Republican Liberty Caucus, to The Washington Times Communities earlier this year. Nalle is also a contributor to TWTC.
“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,” he continued. “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.”
During the same interview, Nalle mentioned that “(w)here 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.”
Concern about right-wing reactionaries, many of whom are Religious Rightists, is not just limited to libertarians.
Former Environmental Protection Agency Administrator and New Jersey Governor Christine Todd Whitman, one of America’s most visible moderate Republicans, has serious doubts about the GOP’s extremism.
“If the current party direction continues, we are going to lurch right until we have major defeat as we did in 1964 after Goldwater was so wrong on so many issues,” she said to TWTC last year. “He designed his strategy to appeal to Southern Democrats and those votes were basically all he got at the ballot box.
“Today we are designing our platform for our perceived base, but let’s not forget that more of the Republican base voted for John McCain than voted for George W. Bush, but McCain lost.
“Until that happens a few more times, we’re going to become increasingly irrelevant on the national stage. We need to offer an alternative to the usual primary process so thoughtful people don’t have to go through the partisan process that forces them to the left or right.”
For over a generation, fundamentalist Christian political activists have tried passing their respective theological doctrines into law. The Republican Party was simply their vehicle of choice.
As America becomes more secular, a great many things remain up in the air. One thing seems for certain, though: the Religious Right’s power will continue to decrease, and by no small measure.
Libertarians are proving to be the way of the future by default.
Far-left? Far-right? Get real: Read more from “The Conscience of a Realist” by Joseph F. Cotto
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