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by Ian Tartt

 

This is a response to an article written by Austin Petersen about why he joined the Republican Party. Will it help him accomplish his political goals, and is he correct about the party’s history and where it stands now? Let’s take a look.

To Petersen’s first point, nobody should be surprised at Republicans (or any politicians for that matter) failing to uphold their campaign promises, especially when those promises involve shrinking government (such as in his example about Republicans failing to repeal Obamacare). Unfortunately, the short attention spans and memories of voters allow politicians to create long-term problems for all of us.

As far as the staying power of the Republican Party is concerned, major political parties have fallen by the wayside historically, but that hasn’t occurred in more than 150 years. Ever since the Republican Party rose up and the Whig Party died out, American politics has been dominated by the Republican and Democratic parties. And despite what some say, their interests and powers are entrenched deeply enough within government and society that neither of them will likely be going away in the foreseeable future.

Petersen then talks about “basic conservative principles” and the ideology of the Republican Party. For starters, what are “basic conservative principles”? Are they the principles of Barry Goldwater, who called himself a conservative even though he’d be more accurately described as a libertarian; or are they principles of the conservatives prior to the 20th century who fought against the classical liberals to preserve the old order of imperialism, fiat money, union of corporation and state, protectionism, deficits, and high taxes? If they are the former, then they shouldn’t be called conservative. If they’re the latter, then they’re not worth celebrating or defending.

The idea of the Republican Party being about liberty is a relatively recent phenomenon. It certainly wasn’t in the minds of the founders of the party, who essentially carried on the progressive ideas of the Whig Party. The latter half of the 19th century, which was mostly dominated by Republican presidents, bears this out. Even Abraham Lincoln, the first Republican president, demonstrated this with his support of high tariffs, employing conscription, and overseeing the first national income tax in US history as well as a series of national banks. Further, Lincoln’s role in freeing slaves is not as straightforward as many think. The Emancipation Proclamation, often thought of as freeing the slaves, only declared Confederate slaves to be free; since those states didn’t recognize the authority of the US government, and the document didn’t declare slaves in the Union to be freed, Lincoln in reality only helped free a handful of slaves.

Since the party was founded, almost no Republican presidents have done anything to substantially reduce the size and power of government. Most, in fact, left the government much bigger than they found it. This is true even of the golden boy of the Republican Party, Ronald Reagan. Despite talking a great deal about freedom, Reagan signed the largest peacetime tax increase in US history, in addition to signing legislation that forced states to raise the drinking age to 21, escalating the War on Drugs, spending more than the five previous presidents combined, and adding over $1 trillion to the national debt by the end of his presidency. Reagan did succeed, however, in talking about smaller government while simultaneously growing government, a move Republican politicians have followed ever since. There are some liberty-minded Republicans as mentioned in the Petersen article, but they are but a drop in the bucket of authoritarians that make up Congress. Could that change over time? Perhaps, as the Democratic Party changed in the late 1800’s; William Jennings Bryan took the party from its classical liberal heritage to the progressivism it has borne ever since. However, the pressure to grow government is so much stronger now than the pressure to reduce it that making the Republican Party libertarian will probably never happen.

When it comes to politics, principle should trump party. Ron Paul demonstrated that it’s possible to stay committed to one’s principles regardless of party affiliation, yet he’s so rare a phenomenon in US politics that he may be the one politician who can do so. Even those in the Libertarian Party, often touted as “the party of principle”, demonstrated in the last election that many of them are willing to put their party first and abandon principle by supporting whatever candidates have a big L next to their name. And, like every other presidential election in the history of the Libertarian Party, the ticket came nowhere near close to winning. Petersen was one of many Libertarian Party members who put party above principle by supporting Gary Johnson, so what does that suggest about his ability to maintain consistent libertarian principles when he’s under pressure to support even more authoritarian candidates in the Republican Party? If he does manage to win and actually makes a positive difference for liberty from within the government, that’s worth celebrating. But he’s got a long, long road ahead of him, and he may break down at some point along the way.


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  • Jack Mulliner

    He has a better chance of achieving something for liberty as a Republican than anywhere else.

    • Don Bivens

      No he doesn’t because he has 0 chance of getting the GOP nomination.

      • MV

        Both are likely accurate. BUT – consider Ron Paul – long time Libertarian who became a libertarian Republican Congressman. As a Republican, he was able to help move the Republican Party towards libertarian principles far more effectively than had he run (and lost) as a Libertarian party candidate.

        Maybe some day in the future….(sooner rather than later???) – more libertarians will try to vote for the most conservative/libertarian candidate in the Republican Party and help shift the party away from merely being a “Democrat Lite” version of the evil party.

        • soybomb315

          “As a Republican, he was able to help move the Republican Party towards libertarian principles far more effectively than had he run (and lost) as a Libertarian party candidate.”
          .
          I get what you are saying. But do you think the republican party today is more libertarian than they were in 2007? If they are – I can’t see it.

          • MV

            Hard to say. BUT – Ron Paul as a Libertarian would be totally irrelevant. As a Republican, he was better able to influence the direction of the Republican party.

            Face it…our nation is essentially a ‘2 party’ country. 3rd parties have NEVER been successful. If Libertarians want to gain power, they would be better off trying to ‘take over’ the Republican Party and make it more conservative and libertarian than trying to create a 3rd Party.

            If we assume that the nation is nominally 40% leftists who would vote for a Democrat, even a re-incarnation of Stalin ….those will always be leftists. Assume there are 40% that are Republicans and likely will vote against the Democrats almost all the time. Then there is the 20% that is either squishy moderates or extremists (either Left or Right). SO – the Libertarians need to ‘infiltrate’ the R party and overwhelm the 40% (say we get 51% of the 40%) to have conservative positions….now we have the R party moving towards Libertarianism. This has happened somewhat with the election of Ted Cruz of TX and Mike Lee of UT, and some of the “Tea Party Conservatives” that are in the House.

            BUT – running as a “L”….likely here the “L” will stand for LOSER.

        • Don Bivens

          Ron Paul was GOP and didn’t join the Libertarian Party until the very late 80’s, some time before he ran for the LP POTUS nomination in 88. Suggesting that he was a “long time libertarian who became a libertarian Republican Congressman” is obfuscation at best or lack of knowledge at worst.

          • MV

            Read all my posts and respond to the general thrust…which is that a “Libertarian Party” is doomed to failure if it is a ‘stand-alone’ party; it will lose to the Democrats, and it will weaken the Republican Party, making it easier for Democrats to prevail. (Consider how H.Ross Perot helped get Clinton elected over Bush (41). What sort of libertarian thinks that Clinton was more preferable to Bush (41)…because that was the only real choice?) My point – Libertarians need to ‘infiltrate’ and persuade and take over the R party. Rather than arguing whether Ron Paul was NOT a ‘true libertarian’ vs. a Republican in the early 1980’s is a waste of time…

          • Don Bivens

            The GOP deserve to be weakened- but defense of the GOP is not surprising coming from an AP supporter.

        • Don Bivens

          edit: flip best and worst and you get the point

    • soybomb315

      nothing gets fixed until we rid ourselves of this corrupt two-party system

  • IceTrey

    The problem for the LP is how do you get anarchists to vote.

  • Tio911✓Fᵉᵈᵉʳᵃˡ ᶦˢᵗ

    I don’t know if Austin can be a force for liberty in the Republican Party, but he’s one of the VERY few GOP candidates even worth looking at for me personally. I certainly wish he had been the LP nominee during the 2016 GE. This article describes well the scam the Repubs have used to deceive their voters…over…and over.

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