To my libertarian-minded friends,
I put the loose and awkward alliance among libertarian-minded voters and Republicans in the strange bedfellow category. The Republican right is dominated by authoritarians who take a very dim view of individual liberty. Witness the Texas State Board of Education’s recent decision to strike the word democracy from social studies textbooks and replace it with “constitutional republic.”
The [state textbook] standards were once littered with references to the U.S. as a democracy. No more. In an early draft, the U.S became a “democratic republic” but now will be termed a “constitutional republic,” as suggested by Cynthia Dunbar, R-Richmond.
Or better, check out this story about wealthy, authoritarian Chinese officials launching their own Tea Party to resist new government programs aimed at stimulating the Chinese economy.
The word democracy, of course, refers to the investment of political power in individuals. Constitutional republic refers to the investment of power in institutions aimed at channeling and checking popular sentiment. America is both things, of course. But it’s revealing that the Republicans are using white-out to elimate the word democracy from the political lexicon.
Republican policies are almost always aimed at enhancing centralized power. Witness the imperial presidencies of Richard Nixon and George W. Bush. Even a constitutional republic is viewed by them as a system that gets in the way of authoritarian executive power.
The U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United v. FEC (pdf) decision is another example. Cast in lofty language about freedom of speech, the decision is really aimed at enhancing the power of corporations by giving them the ability to spend unlimited sums to get the election outcomes they want.
When I reached voting age, I was attracted to Democrats because they were the defenders of individual liberty. Let’s take civil rights, which might better have been called the Individual Rights Movement, because that was what it was about. State-sponsored oppression of African-Americans was made illegal by the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act. The South screamed about the federal intrusion in their affairs.
Over time, the Right succeed in making the Civil Rights Act look like an attack on individual liberty. Who was the federal government to tell us whose individual liberties we could take away if we wanted to? This upside-down logic was a dodge and a distraction. It disguised the authoritarian bent of the Right.
I have to agree that progressives too often pursued statist solutions. I view government as nothing but our cooperative effort to get done collectively what we can’t do individually. We need police and fire departments. We need public roads. We need oversight and regulation of certain industries because left unchecked they will too often prey on innocents, in the process using their economic leverage to diminish opportunity and take away individual liberty. But government is not itself an answer to anything. It is a vehicle, not a destination.
I am skeptical of power in all its guises, and I think I share this with my libertarian-minded friends. We need to talk, before it’s too late.