Saturday, October 17, 2009

Libertarianism, conservatism and the number 23


The setup:

New York's 23rd US House District has a special election coming up next month, due to the appointment of US Representative John McHugh as Secretary of the Army.

The Republican nominee for the seat is state legislator Dierdre "Dede" Scozzafava (campaign site here). The Democrats have nominated Plattsburgh attorney Bill Owens (campaign site here).

The 23rd being a Republican-leaning district, that would seem to be that -- Scozzofava in a walk. But it's not quite that simple.

In New York, even in Republican-leaning areas, a Republican running for public office usually needs the nomination or endorsement of a third party -- the Conservative Party -- to assure victory. And the Conservative Party declined to get behind Scozzafava, instead nominating Doug Hoffman, a Lake Placid accountant (campaign site here).

The situation:

Hoffman is polling well, and seems to enjoy substantial support from the "conservative" wing of the Republican Party versus "GOP Establishment" nominee Scozzafava. Whether or not he has the juice to win is debatable, but he almost certainly has the ability to cost Scozzafava the race and turn the seat Democrat.

So ... why should any of this be of interest to a libertarian, especially a partisan Libertarian? Two reasons:

- First, it sets up an interesting argument about whether or not conservatives and libertarians are allies, even within the confines of the GOP.

Conservatives are backing Conservative Party candidate Hoffman versus Republican Party candidate Scozzafava, but as Eric Dondero at Libertarian Republican points out, they weren't willing to back Libertarian Party candidate Bob Smithers versus Republican write-in candidate Shelley Sekula-Gibbs in Texas back in 2006.

To put as fine a point as possible on it, conservatives have proven over and over that they'll pout and turn a seat over to the Democrats rather than back a partisan Libertarian; and that they'll pout, bolt to a third party, and turn a seat over to the Democrats rather than back a partisan Republican who leans libertarian.

Is that how allies treat each other?

- Second, it highlights the tendency of conservatives to piss down libertarians' backs and try to tell us it's raining. At least some conservatives are trying to sell Hoffman as the more libertarian choice versus Scozzafava. One of them, Robert Stacy McCain, even plays the "all together against the deluge" card:

Right now there is a battle being waged in upstate New York that may, to some important extent, determine the future of this nation. ... There is too much important work to be done now for anyone who is a genuine friend of liberty to be engaged in intramural score-settling.


By which he means "support Hoffman."

But who's engaging in "intramural score-settling" here? Conservatives are revolting against the GOP Establishment, but if the race in New York's 23rd district is any indication, that revolt is not liberty-centered.

I wouldn't call Scozzafava a "libertarian Republican," but then again I'm hard put to think of anyone I'd so designate. All indications, however are that she's more libertarian, in significant respects, than Hoffman.

Hoffman's trump card -- played on the entrance page to his campaign site and appearing at the top of his list of issues links -- is that he supports the maintenance of marriage apartheid while Scozzafava voted twice for marriage freedom.

On spending issues, Scozzafava has a legislative record of actually voting against bloated state budgets. Hoffman's weak rejoinder (he has no legislative record to consult) is that he'll go after pork/earmarks ... which constitute an infinitesimal portion of the federal budget.

On taxes, Scozzafava openly favors making the Bush tax cuts permanent, getting rid of the death tax once and for all, and fixing the Alternative Minimum Tax to permanently stop its downward climb on the income ladder. Hoffman has signed a pledge not to increase taxes, but his actual proposals are bromides about flat taxes, etc. ... and he even hedges his no-increase pledge: "Before we even consider raising taxes we must first bring spending under control."

They've both got strong 2nd Amendment statements on their campaign web sites. They differ on abortion (Hoffman pro-life, Scozzafava pro-choice), but so do libertarians, based on our individual assessments of questions of fact (e.g. when personhood inheres, and therefore rights become operant, in an unborn child).

I'm not trying to put Hoffman down here -- he does have redeeming, pro-freedom qualities, including apparently not being a Know-Nothing on immigration ("There is no question that our immigration policies are flawed. The answer, though, is not to put up a wall and stop all immigration. The answer is to create an easier path for immigrants to enter the United States -- and to work here -- while at the same time getting tough on illegal immigrants who commit crimes.") -- but I'm just not seeing how anyone could sell him as The Great White Libertarian Hope to Scozzafava's Evil Socialist RINO, which is what some conservatives are apparently trying to do.

"Small-l libertarians" don't really seem to have an obvious horse in this race. Based on campaign web site statements, I'd rate Scozzafava as slightly preferable to Hoffman, though.

Conservatives want libertarians as allies in their revolts against the GOP Establishment, but they decline to ally themselves with libertarians against that same Establishment when there's a real L/libertarian in the race. The "coalition" they propose runs one way: Libertarians are to support besieged conservatives, but conservatives must never be called upon to reciprocate.

Meh ... I don't friggin' think so. The burden of proof, at this point, is very much on the conservatives to prove they're serious about a "coalition." Being the enemy of my enemy isn't enough, especially when you've proven over and over again that you'll switch sides most ricky-tick when it's my ox, rather than yours, that's being gored.

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