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I find it a challenge trying to persuade religious conservatives to loosen the relationship between their religious beliefs and their political agenda. However, I find it even more of a challenge to deal with the Left, where their political agenda is their religion.

The purpose of Request for Ideological Comment is to reset the terms of the alliance between libertarians and conservatives. Why not, instead, follow Brink Lindsey’s suggestion and try to forge a common bond between libertarians and liberals?

Briefly, my answer boils down to two points.

1) The Republican base is more naturally favorable toward limited government than is the Democratic base.

2) I find it a challenge trying to persuade religious conservatives to loosen the relationship between their religious beliefs and their political agenda. However, I find it even more of a challenge to deal with the Left, where their political agenda is their religion.

Single Moms and Government Employees

Analysis of voting patterns seems to show that married couples tend to support Republicans, and single moms tend to support Democrats. My guess is that of those two constituencies, married couples are more likely to resist calls for big government. While I imagine that there must be some single moms who lean libertarian, in general single mothers are more likely to look to government as a substitute for the missing father.

In addition, the organizational and financial base of the Democratic Party consists largely of government workers. Steven Malanga has documented the growth of the public-sector union movement and its control over urban politics and the Democratic Party.

Religious Liberals

In a column called ” Two Strategies for Avoiding Truth “, I pointed out that those of us who pride ourselves on intellectual ability often use our cleverness to hold on to ideological biases. We systematically dismiss facts and analysis that go against our preferred point of view, while eagerly embracing anything that supports our ideological beliefs.

For this reason, I rarely find myself making progress in discussions with those on the Left. For example, consider this response from a liberal to my request for comment:

[Kling writes,] “When foreign leaders issue threats against us, we take them at their word and act accordingly.”

The only problem with this principle is that it’s totally nuts. For one thing, is there a reason we take threats at face value but not other kinds of statements? Presumably we don’t, as a rule, take all statements made by foreign leaders at face value. We don’t do this for the same reason we don’t, as a rule, take all statements made by people in general at face value: Sometimes it serves people’s interests to lie…

To take an example, when George W. Bush promised to “end tyranny” as a general phenomenon around the world, should the People’s Republic of China took his threat to overthrow their government at face value?

I think that for an American President to promise to end tyranny as a general phenomenon is very unwise for many reasons. I think that China is entitled to ask the President if he plans to use military force to accomplish this task. And I would hope that the President would back away from such a suggestion.

It may be unwise to take political leaders at their word in many instances. However, I think it might be best to take them at their word when issuing threats.

Many of the commenters on the blog post who agreed that my proposal is “nuts” suggested that we need instead to use our intelligence resources to ascertain the seriousness of threats. I see at least two problems with this approach.

First, it gives enemy leaders a “free pass” to declare war without suffering any consequences. That is what Osama Bin Laden did well before 9/11. It is what Iran did when they took our diplomats hostage in 1979.

Second, it puts the decision about whether or not to confront our enemies in the hands of the CIA or other intelligence services, based on their assessment of the “true” intentions of foreign leaders. Our foreign policy becomes an exercise in long-distance psychoanalysis.

My point is not that the liberals have no case for an alternative approach. What disturbs me is that they are issuing rhetorical put-downs as a substitute for laying out an alternative and thinking through its consequences. Unfortunately, this is an all-to-typical modus operandi .

The Left’s religion often comes dressed up as science. Marxism is one example . The eugenics movement of the early twentieth century is another. The Global Warming crusade is probably another.

I think that Brink Lindsey’s overture will fall on deaf ears. I think that rather than attempt a fling with the liberals, libertarians would do better to go into counseling to try and save their marriage with conservatives.

Trying to Persuade Conservatives

The recent Conservative Summit sponsored by National Review featured a number of “debates” in which I disagreed with the side articulated by National Review ‘s partisans. On immigration, they appealed to people’s fears and resentments. In my view, we are too great a nation to be frightened by a bunch of Mexicans who want to earn a living.

On the war in Iraq, the National Review partisans demanded victory rather than defeat. I would love to see victory, but I do not know which side we are fighting on. At this point, I am fed up with the Iraqis . I see them acting like siblings who won’t stop fighting, coming up to us saying, ” He did it! Punish him !” Until they learn to act like adults, I see no point in fighting their battles for them.

On social issues, I differ from the National Review partisans in that I am not a social conservative politically . I favor keeping government out of issues of sexual conduct. Nonetheless, in terms of behavior I am quite conservative. (So are all of my liberal friends. Their politics may be from Woodstock, but their lifestyles are from “Ozzie and Harriett.”) I think that if my preferred policies were to induce many fewer people to behave conservatively, I would be willing to rethink my position.

Looking at these disagreements, I see hope for progress in nudging the conservative movement in a libertarian direction. One consistent theme of the Conservative Summit was the need to return to the principle of limited government. This represents a real change in thinking, because, as Michael Tanner points out in Leviathan on the Right , the conservative movement in recent years has embraced many ideologies that favor government expansion.

Save the Marriage

The typical libertarian shorthand is that we are with the Democrats on social issues and with the Republicans on economic issues. In recent years, the Republicans betrayed us on economic issues. However, my sense is that many in the conservative movement are anxious to repent. On foreign policy, I think that we can gradually persuade more of them to come to their senses on the challenges of the Natural State .

Meanwhile, the Democrats seem to be completely dug in to hard-left positions on economics. They lack any vision for foreign policy. I think we should stick with our marriage to conservatives, and try to make it work.

The Request for Comment is an attempt to push forward a discussion about how the marriage will work going forward. So far, many interesting comments have been made — see in particular Tyler Cowen and Steve Postrel . I am eager to see what else people have to say.

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