Newt Gingrich Is No Libertarian

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This originally
appeared in the Washington
Post, December 30, 1994.

E. J. Dionne
is wrong in identifying the Republican elites, in particular the
Gingrich faction, with the libertarian revolution (op-ed, Dec. 6)
. The truth is that since we have been stuck with a two-party system,
any electoral revolution against big government had to be expressed
through a Republican victory. So it is certainly true that Newt
Gingrich and his faction, as well as Robert Dole, have ridden to
power on the libertarian wave.

But to speak,
as Mr. Dionne does, of "the rise of libertarians as a key party
constituency and the centrality of libertarian ideas to many of
the party’s new leaders" is going a bit too far.

As Ralph Nader
– no libertarian – pointed out, it took less than a month for
Gingrich, Rep. Dick Armey and the others to betray the new revolution
by collaborating with President Clinton and a discredited Congress
to push through the World Trade Organization, which institutionalizes
government management of world trade, complete with punitive sanctions
and fines.

(smeared as "isolationism") is at the heart of the Old
Right, as Dionne mentions, and it is also the source of the libertarian
split from the conservative mainstream during the Cold War. Yet,
now that the Soviet Union and the Cold War are happily dead and
gone, the Republican and Democratic elites continue in lockstep
to favor pushing other countries around for their own alleged good,
while imposing vast burdens on the American taxpayer. Gingrich and
Dole, in fact, criticize Mr. Clinton’s foreign policy for not being
interventionist enough.

What could
be a clearer example of the rift between the Gingrich-Dole-Armey
Republican elites and the mass of the American public? The American
people couldn’t care less about Bosnia or Somalia or Haiti; they
resist government-made multinational trade cartels, and they oppose
foreign aid. Yet the Republican "conservatives" are at
least as enthusiastic as Democratic liberals about these programs.

The same is
true on the domestic front. The libertarian Old Right was born in
opposition to Franklin D. Roosevelt and his New Deal. Yet Gingrich
has repeatedly emphasized his devotion to FDR ("the greatest
figure of the 20th century"), to his statist political program
("the truth is we would have voted for much of it"), and
to his legacy ("He did bring us out of the Depression").
Accepting as truth the most damaging anti-capitalist cliche of the
century, Gingrich reveals his ignorance of history as well as of

support of the libertarian revolution is, so far, only lip service.
His concrete proposals would likely expand the welfare state’s burden
on the taxpayers, for example, by forcing states to create and operate
a vast array of government orphanages and group homes. Instead of
being rearranged, spending should be slashed and the money returned
to its original owners.

The Gingrichians
had petty reservations about the Clinton crime bill, but they enthusiastically
supported the dangerous nationalization of crime-fighting functions,
which, according to both libertarian precepts and the Constitution,
are supposed to dwell exclusively in the states and local communities.
And we should never forget that Gingrich advocated a compromise
with the president on health care.

Indeed, if
a Democrat had delivered Newt Gingrich’s acceptance speech, calling
on the nation to "reach out together as a family" and
promising to right every social wrong, Republicans would have ridiculed
him as another Mario Cuomo. But call social engineering the "opportunity
society" and it becomes "futurism."

Dick Armey,
who in his early years in Congress was indeed, as Dionne says, influenced
by the libertarian Ludwig von Mises, has also succumbed. In addition
to his vote for the WTO, Mr. Armey has emphasized his strong support
for the "untouchable" Social Security.

Social Security,
now the largest government program, was also the biggest single
tragedy of the New Deal. It plunders income and savings, wastes
them in government spending, and then taxes people again to pay
for the "insurance" benefits. No libertarian could pronounce
this bankrupt and disastrous racket to be sacrosanct.

As Dionne would
be the first to understand, though, none of this means the prognosis
is hopeless. The Republican sweep has brought to Washington a number
of libertarian-minded backbenchers. They will pressure the Republican
elites from the libertarian right, reflecting both passionately
held ideology and the libertarian mood of the people who elected

N. Rothbard
(1926–1995) was dean of the Austrian School,
founder of modern libertarianism, and chief academic officer of
the Mises Institute. He was
also editor — with Lew Rockwell — of The
Rothbard-Rockwell Report
, and appointed Lew as his literary
executor. See
his books.

Best of Murray Rothbard

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