Many of us have become used to neo-libertarians who still, after all its failures, defend Gulf War II. What might seem harder to understand is how any self-proclaimed libertarian could possibly endorse or vote for George W. Bush.
Bush’s foreign policy is bloodthirsty, reckless and deceitful. His economic policies are collectivist, corrupt, and confused. His domestic War on Terror policies stink of dystopian police statism. He is the very worst president in many years. Perhaps Johnson and Nixon were as bad. FDR and Truman were probably worse. But how could a libertarian find anything the least bit attractive, even acceptable, about our current president?
In an article in the Orange Country Register, Daniel Griswold from the Cato Institute lays out "the libertarian case for Bush." He admits the case is "weak," and concedes that libertarians might not find Bush to be a flawless god:
"Bush and the GOP Congress have presided over an explosion of federal spending during his term. Bush championed the 2002 farm subsidy bill, the Medicare drug benefit and huge increases in education spending. He signed the anti-free-speech campaign finance u2018reform’ bill and imposed temporary tariffs on steel imports. And most libertarians (although not all) believe the war in Iraq is a dangerous distraction from the war on terrorism."
He is right on all these counts, including the last. Some libertarians don’t believe the Iraq is a "dangerous distraction from the war on terrorism." I, for one, think that the Iraq War is just like the rest of the War on Terror: an expensive and counterproductive liberty-trampling threat to human lives based on lies and propaganda. However, I somehow think that’s not quite what Griswold means.
In spite of Bush’s faults, Griswold explains that Kerry would be an even bigger spender on everything except "defense." But if Kerry were a genuine alternative on the war issue, offering significant cuts in military spending, perhaps libertarians would have a good idea of whom to root for. And I don’t think it would be Bush.
Griswold goes on to explain all the ways in which Bush has libertarian tendencies:
"Since he first ran in 2000, Bush has proposed to return a share of Social Security taxes to workers in the form of private pension accounts invested in the market. That would transform the country’s largest entitlement program into an engine of private saving, investment and ownership. It would mark the most important curtailment of the welfare state in decades."
The way I see it, if I’m forced to invest in private companies, that’s not really much an improvement over the current system. It’s like the difference between socialism and fascism. Why should corporations have investors guaranteed to them by the state? We should just scrap the whole system. That would be a solution that even some liberals would eventually favor, who cringe at the idea of forced investment into private companies. There are multiple other problems with these schemes to "privatize" Social Security.
Bush has done nothing so far to make Social Security less oppressive. Even if he does reform the program in his second term, causing the "most important curtailment of the welfare state in decades," his prescription drug program has already been the most important expansion of the welfare state in decades. Should we reelect him in hopes that he’ll compensate for one huge Bismarckian boondoggle with a haphazard reform of another?
"Bush signed legislation establishing health savings accounts, which empower more consumers to decide how their health dollars will be spent."
I don’t know what’s more Orwellian, the idea that Bush has liberated our health care, or hearing this idea from a free marketer.
"On gun control, Bush is a consistent defender of the moral and constitutional right to keep and bear arms."
Tell that to the commercial airline pilots who are still waiting to carry guns on airplanes. Even an overwhelming majority of Democratic Senators supported the common-sense idea to arm pilots, but the Bush administration did everything it could to keep airborne Americans as disarmed and defenseless as possible.
Or tell the disarmed Iraqis in Baghdad that "Bush is a consistent defender of the moral and constitutional right to keep and bear arms." The US puppet regime has gone door to door to enforce a total gun ban in a city where firearms ownership used to be quite common.
At home, Ascroft’s Justice Department brags about how much more rigorous enforcement of gun control laws has been since Bush took office. I doubt the NRA cares. Some people would consider what happened at Waco to be "reasonable gun control" if it occurred on a Republican’s watch.
"On free trade, Bush has embraced the freedom of Americans to trade and invest in the global economy."
Unless, of course, they wanted to buy foreign steel or coal. Or furniture or textiles from China. Or sugar, beef, or dairy products from Australia. Or anything from Cuba. Bush has been the most protectionist president in a long time.
"On tax reform, Bush shares the Reagan vision of a tax system that encourages economic success."
What vision is that? Collecting more revenue? Since when have libertarians wanted the government to have as efficient a robbery system as possible?
Anyway, most of these issues are relatively minor compared to some that Griswold does not mention in any detail, such as the unconstitutional and indefinite detainment of individuals without trial, the sweeping surveillance powers under the Patriot Act, and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that have taken tens of thousands of lives and consumed and destroyed hundreds of billions of dollars worth of American and foreign property.
Bush is more than a bad president. He is a wannabe Caesar. Bush is the biggest welfare-state spender in decades, but his War on Terror should frighten libertarians much more than his runaway domestic spending, as bad as the latter is. Considered altogether, Bush’s legacy has been to reverse every great libertarian revolution in history. With his protectionism, he has overthrown Adam Smith. With his War on Terror, he has made a mockery of the Declaration of Independence. At home, he has trashed the Bill of Rights. In Iraq, he has flouted the Geneva Convention. At Guantanamo, he has even scrapped habeas corpus. What’s more statist than that? We’ve had habeas corpus since 1215, for goodness sakes!
There might be reasons to think Kerry will be even more a warmonger. Such reasons are the only ones for a true libertarian to seriously prefer Bush. But even a libertarian who thinks Kerry might be worse in his foreign policies should never come out in favor of George Caesar Bush.
The irony is that it is Bush’s warmongering that makes so many free-marketers defend him. I can’t speak for Griswold, since I don’t know all his views. But make no mistake about it. It’s not Bush’s fictitious enthusiasm for free trade and gun rights that excites most of the "libertarians" who support him. It’s his violence and imperialism that inspires the neo-libertarians, exemplified by the bizarre group, "Libertarians for Bush."
War is the health of the state, and of statism as well. I doubt there has ever been better proof of this than the "libertarians" who are rooting for the reelection of the greatest enemy of individual liberty to occupy the Oval Office in thirty or more years.
Anthony Gregory [send him mail] is a writer and musician who lives in Berkeley, California. He earned his bachelor’s degree in history at UC Berkeley, where he was president of the Cal Libertarians. He is an intern at the Independent Institute and has written for Rational Review, Strike the Root, the Libertarian Enterprise, and Antiwar.com. See his webpage for more articles and personal information.