A new spurt of commentary on the proposed alliance has erupted, much of it prompted by Jon Chait’s dismissive response to Brink Lindsey’s original essay. Brink himself hits back at The New Republic, as does his colleague David Boaz at Cato at Liberty. At The Corner there are reactions from Jonah Goldberg (who also has a longer column on the topic), John Hood, and Ramesh Ponnuru. Jonathan Adler comments at Volokh Conspiracy. James Joyner’s contribution is at Outside the Beltway. And Ezra Klein gets in a few more shots from his sniper’s perch at TAPped.
There’s so much consensus, maybe they should form a liberal-conservative alliance founded on mutual disdain for libertarians. The short version: Libertarians are are too marginal and internally divided to be worth courting, there’s precious little liberals could offer them without compromising their core values, and even if they were willing to, the previous two points in combination mean they’d lose more votes from their base than they’d pick up from us. Brink and David deal with this to some extent, but a couple thoughts. Sometimes in a war, you seize territory that’s strategically useless to you because it is very useful to the opposing army, and you want to deprive them of it. As several of the Corner folk observe, the Dems can probably win without significant libertarian support, but it does put the GOP in a tougher position if we break away in substantial numbers. Also, there are some areas where liberals could just emphasize certain things they already believe that they’re currently not devoting much energy into which would impress libertarians without costing them much elsewhere—earmark reform being a good recent example. Second, do recall that various policies libertarians like will also appeal to some non-libertarian voters, so on an issue-by-issue basis, it’s not just that 10 or 15 or whatever percent you’re hoping to draw in.
Now, it may be true that, as Chait suggests, a populist liberalism could be even more appealing. But I’m at least hoping liberals care about, like, doing what’s right in addition to getting the maximum possible vote totals. You think we’re toxically nuts? Try hitching your wagon to a movement that will use your nice rhetoric about environmental and labor standards as a fig leaf for raw xenophobia. Won’t that be fun? And since entitlements seem to be the sticking point here, I’ll reiterate one more time: The explosion in Medicare and retirement spending is coming either way. You can play an oppositional game against a fusionist conservatism, framed in terms of “saving” or “eviscerating” the programs as they now exist, or you can use the breathing room that you’d get on this front from bringing libertarians on board to avert a long-term clusterfuck, seizing the opportunity to begin reforms without worrying about conceding problems that could bee used against the very existence of those programs. Might make for less dramatic fundraising letters, but it’d almost certainly be better for the country.