There's an unstated assumption among most libertarians -- even those who don't particularly care for the Republican Party -- that Republican politicians tend to "lean a little more libertarian" than Democratic politicians. That assumption has colored discussions about whether or not the Democratic Party, currently in the doldrums of defeat, might not be open to libertarian ideas: the default presumption is that these ideas are alien to Democrats and to Democratic politicians.
Eric Dondero, an unofficial representative of the Republican Liberty Caucus, recently posed a simple challenge on several Internet discussion lists: Name one prominent, elected "libertarian Democrat." Some of the answers he had received in the past -- Russ Feingold, Lloyd Doggett, et al -- had struck him (and me) as fairly lame.
I'll be honest with you -- I don't see anyone in competition right now for the title of "The Democratic Party's Ron Paul." The Democratic Freedom Caucus, nominally the counterpart to the RLC, seems to be even less organized and effective at this time than the RLC or the Libertarian Party (which, when you think about it, is saying quite a bit). From the moment I began to consider affiliating with the DFC, I've considered it a project still on the launch pad.
However, Mr. Dondero's challenge did inspire me to inquire more closely into the behaviors of both Republican and Democratic politicians. As my sample, I decided to work with Missouri's US House delegation. In order to rate those congresscritters, I decided to pick ten bills, or amendments to bills, from the second session (the 2004 session) of the 104th Congress -- five votes per congresscritter which could be said to reasonably represent libertarian positions on "civil liberties" issues and five which could be said to reasonably represent libertarian positions on "fiscal responsibility." I'd assign each congresscritter 10 "points" for a "libertarian" vote on a bill, and 0 points for a "non-libertarian" vote on a bill, with "not voting" -- i.e. being absent for the vote -- also racking up a zero point score. At the end of it all, each congresscritter would have a rating somewhere between 0 and 100 inclusive, with the higher scores being the "more libertarian" end of the spectrum.
Since there seems to be a lack of consensus among libertarians on abortion and foreign policy issues, I decided to omit those issues from the rating system.
Having created the logic of the system, I then went off in search of bills that fit the, um, bill. I went through a list of roll call votes at the US House of Representatives web site, looking for likely titles. Then I did some Googling on search strings like: ["roll call vote" "medical marijuana"] and ["key votes" 2004 "gun control"]. When it was all said and done, I had what I considered to be a reasonable cross-section of civil liberties and fiscal responsibility votes, along with whether "yea" or "nay" represented the "libertarian vote" and which Representative had voted in what way on each bill.
Imagine my surprise when I found that of the four Democrats representing Missouri in Congress, none had scored below 50 on my "liberty index"-- not even liberal icon Dick Gephardt, who had four "not voting" strikes against him -- and that of the five Republicans, not one had scored above 40!
I didn't purposely design the rating system to benefit Democrats. As a matter of fact, I expected, when I ran the numbers, to find the Republicans averaging higher than the Democrats, with maybe one Democrat within, but near the bottom, of the "Republican range." Instead, it came out the opposite way: The four Democrats came out as the four "most libertarian" of Missouri's US Representatives. The "most libertarian" Republican (Todd Akin, whose name appears on the RLC's 2004 election victory brag list) emerged as "less libertarian" than Dick friggin' Gephardt.
Even more surprising was that my own congresscritter, the first district's Lacy Clay, was rated the "most libertarian" Representative in Missouri's congressional delegation. I've described Clay in many ways -- some laudatory, some not -- in the past, but never as a libertarian. Yet he scored 80 of a possible 100.
Whoa. Dude. What the hell is Knapp smoking? Well, let's take a look at the rating system.
1. HJ RES 106 -- the anti-marriage Constitutional amendment. Had it passed both houses of Congress with a 2/3 vote and been ratified by 3/4 of America's state legislatures, it would have forbidden same-sex couples to engage in the form of contract known as "marriage." I think it is beyond dispute that a vote for this amendment would be anti-liberty, and that a vote against it would be at least nominally pro-liberty. YES = 0 points, NO = 10 points.
2. HR 3317 -- Broadcast Decency Enforcement Act. This bill essentially ordered the Federal Communications Commission to get tougher with people who say "fuck" on the radio or flash a little nipple at the Super Bowl. Censorship is not libertarian. YES = 0 points, NO = 10 points.
3. HR3193 -- Repeal of victim disarmament laws in the District of Columbia. DC doesn't have home rule. Congress runs the place (which is why it's such a dump). This bill would have repealed the DC ban on gun ownership. Which part of "shall not be infringed" does anyone not understand? YES = 10 points, NO = 0 points.
4. Hinchey-Rohrabacher Amendment to HR 4754 -- This amendment (and yes, that's old-time libertarian, now at least nominally "libertarian Republican" Dana Rohrabacher in its name) would have ended federal thuggery against medical marijuana patients in states which have legalized its use. The war on drugs is not libertarian. YES = 10 points, NO = 0 points.
5. Sanders Amendment to HR 4754 -- This amendment would have withdrawn funding for operations which entailed warrantless searches, acquisition of library and Internet records, etc., under FISA and the Patriot Act. Big Brother ain't no libertarian. YES = 10 points, NO = 0 points.
Here's how Missouri's right honorable US Representatives did:
DISTRICT 1 - CLAY(D) 10, 10, 0, 10, 10 -- TOTAL 40
DISTRICT 2 - AKIN (R) 0, 0, 10, 0, 0 -- TOTAL 10
DISTRICT 3 - GEPHARDT (D) 10, 0, NV, 10, NV -- TOTAL 20 (of 30)
DISTRICT 4 - SKELTON (D) 0, 0, 10, 0, 10 -- TOTAL 20
DISTRICT 5 - MCCARTHY (D) 10, 0, 0, 10, 10 -- TOTAL 30
DISTRICT 6 - GRAVES (R) 0, 0, 10, 10, 0 -- TOTAL 10
DISTRICT 7 - BLUNT (R) 0, 0, 10, 0, 0 -- TOTAL 10
DISTRICT 8 - EMERSON (R) 0, 0, 10, 0, 0 -- TOTAL 10
DISTRICT 9 - HULSHOF (R) 0, 0, 10, 0, 0 -- TOTAL 10
Interesting, huh? On key civil liberties issues, not a single Republican congresscritter from Missouri voted "libertarian" more than one time in five. The "least libertarian" Democrat voted "libertarian" at least two in five times, and the "most libertarian" Democrat four of five.
But let's get on to the "fiscal responsibility" section and see how our prudent, conservative Republican friends stacked up against those evil, big-spending Democrats.
1. H CON RES 393 -- The federal budget for Fiscal Year 2005. The biggest budget in the history of the United States, with one of, if not the, largest deficits implied. A bill full of pork. A spending binge the likes of which Bill Clinton never dared dream and to which LBJ only aspired. Huge federal budgets aren't libertarian. Neither are the future tax increases -- whether overt or through inflation -- that they imply. YES = 0 points, NO = 10 points.
2. HR 4181 -- This bill extended the 1986 tax reform which increased the standard exemption from income tax and included more people in the bottom rate. Excluding more income from taxation and taxing what's left at a lower rate tends toward libertarianism (more radical libertarians would exempt 100% and tax the non-existent remainder at 0%, but we're at least moving in the right direction here -- enough said). YES = 10 points, NO = 0 points
3. S 2986 -- Increase of the public debt limit. This is what politicians do when they've indulged in deficit spending until they've reached the point where they said they'd stop -- They just reconsider and vote themselves more credit. See my comments on H CON RES 393 above. YES = 0 points, NO = 10 points.
4. HR 1308 -- Remember the big Republican push last year to "make President Bush's [miniscule] tax cuts permanent?" This is that bill. They even threw in a few more cuts. Nothing big, but cutting taxes is cutting taxes. YES = 10 points NO = 0 points
5. Procedural vote on HR 5025 -- Congress has done pretty well at lining its own pockets. They've made their own pay raises "automatic" so that they can go back to their districts and swear that they didn't vote themselves a raise. This procedural vote would have forced them to vote up or down on the "automatic" raise and go on record as to whether they thought they could get by on $160k per year or whether they thought the taxpayer should give them a raise. Big bucks for politicians isn't libertarian. Neither is trying to fool the taxpayer into thinking that you really didn't want the money. YES = 10 points, NO = 0 points.
Here's the toteup:
DISTRICT 1 - CLAY (D) 10, 10, 10, 0, 10 -- TOTAL 40
DISTRICT 2 - AKIN (R) 0, 10, 0, 10, 10 -- TOTAL 30
DISTRICT 3 - GEPHARDT (D) 10, 10, NV, 10, NV -- TOTAL 30 (of 30)
DISTRICT 4 - SKELTON (D) 10, 10, 10, 10, 10 -- TOTAL 50
DISTRICT 5 - MCCARTHY (D) 10, 0, 10, NV, 10 -- TOTAL 30 (of 40)
DISTRICT 6 - GRAVES (R) 0, 10, 0, NV, 0 -- TOTAL 10 (of 40)
DISTRICT 7 - BLUNT (R) 0, 10, 0, 10, 10 -- TOTAL 30
DISTRICT 8 - EMERSON (R) 0, 10, 0, 10, 0 -- TOTAL 20
DISTRICT 9 - HULSHOF (R) 0, 10, 0, 10, 0 -- TOTAL 20
The Republicans did a little better this time. Two of them managed 30 points of a possible 50, tying the two "least libertarian" Democrats (of course, one of those Democrats scored 30 of 30, not voting on two of the five, but what the hey). But the two "most libertarian" Missouri congresscritters on fiscal responsibility issues were both Democrats. Ike Skelton went five for five! And Clay, once again, racked up a credible 40 of 50.
When added together, these ratings produce a total "score" of between 0 and 100, with 100 being the "most libertarian" end of the spectrum. Here are the totals, in descending order:
Clay (D) -- 80
Skelton (D) -- 70
McCarthy (D) -- 60 (of 90)
Gephardt (D) -- 50 (of 60)
Akin (R) -- 40
Blunt (R) -- 40
Emerson (R) -- 30
Hulshof (R) -- 30
Graves (R) -- 20 (of 90)
There you have it, folks. No, I'm not saying that any of Missouri's congresscritters are ideological libertarians. None of them are. But if you're interested in pursuing libertarian policy goals through a "major" party, then you should to look at actual bills, actual votes and actual records, not just rhetoric. By my scoring -- and yes, I realize that your mileage may vary with respect to what priorities should have made "the list" -- Lacy Clay is twice as "libertarian" as Todd "Republican Liberty Caucus" Akin. Given those facts, which "major" party should I conclude is more receptive to libertarian policy proposals and more likely to field candidates who will move public policy in a libertarian direction?