Editor’s Note: I know lots of people who enjoy calling themselves libertarians. The idea that government can’t do anything right gives the libertarian position a certain cachet. However, it’s my experience that these people are mainly liberals or conservatives, and the idea that you want government out of people’s business usually boils down to the conviction that we like the state to bother those people who are doing things we don’t like, and we want government to support people and ideas we do like, no matter how intrusive the government’s actions might be. Bottom line ... human beings are, by nature, hypocrites. Not everyone was pleased with this article. One conservative told me the “questions were slanted.” Of course they’re slanted ... I’m an opinion columnist. Another reader went so far as to write his own column, attacking mine. Evidently, Mr. Eduardo Lopez-Reyes is a Rand Paul fan, and a libertarian.

Libertarianism: It’s a Mirage


Since Rand Paul’s hat has been officially thrown into the ring, some voters are hoping we might elect our first libertarian president. It’s an intriguing, but unrealistic, possibility.

With Congress carrying an approval rating lower than that of pimps and lawyers, and the president inspiring hatred unseen since the days of Lincoln, politics overall has lost its luster. Getting government out of our lives is an increasingly popular idea, which explains why so many conservatives are pretending to embrace a libertarian philosophy.

However, if Sen. Paul (R.-KY) and his father (ex-congressman Ron Paul [R.-TX]) dislike government so much, why did both of them make it their careers, and why have both aspired to run one whole branch of it? Perhaps it’s the same reason so many politicians who’ve claimed to back term limits cling to their congressional seats like grim death for decades. A libertarian administration isn’t unrealistic because Sen. Paul is unelectable; a libertarian administration is unrealistic because Mr. Paul is no libertarian.

In the Republican primaries, Paul will need to espouse the orthodox Fox News talking points, so he’s come out against marriage equality, reproductive choice and legalized marijuana, while proposing massive increases in defense spending. His only problem area with the right-wing base might be foreign policy, where his sensible isolationism has caused some conservatives to mock him as being “to the left of Hillary.”

An attorney once told me that anyone who calls himself a libertarian should vote Republican. However, in 2012, comic Bill Maher, a prominent libertarian, contributed $1 million to the Obama campaign. I like libertarianism myself, but I’m probably more of a permissive Democrat. And, realistically, conservatives are to libertarians what Southern Baptists are to Unitarians. In a country deeply split between liberals and conservatives, libertarian sensibilities rarely trump hyperpartisanship.

It reminds me of an Irish anecdote about sectarian partisanship in the Old Country. A journalist was visiting Belfast, and a local asked him if he was Irish. He said, “No, I’m American.” The Irishman then asked, “So, are you Catholic or Protestant?” To this, he replied, “I’m Jewish.” Without missing a beat, the Irishman asked, “But are you a Catholic Jew or a Protestant Jew?”

Comic Jeff Foxworthy has made a career out of asking questions that define whether “You might be a redneck.” There are several issues Democrats who think they’re libertarians should consider:

If you agree with most of the above, you might just be a liberal. There are also issues Republicans who think they’re libertarians should consider:

If you agree with most of the above, you might just be a conservative. Like most Americans, I admire Thomas Jefferson’s axiom that “government is best that governs least”; however, I’m probably not a libertarian either.

Recently, I felt like a persecuted libertarian when I got slapped with a $90 ticket for driving without my seatbelt on during “click it or ticket” month. Although, for safety reasons, I favor caning for anyone who talks on their mobile phone while driving, how is my seatbelt anybody else’s business? It should be my inalienable right to splatter my face across my windshield, just as motorcycle riders who don’t want to wear helmets should have the right to puree their brains on the pavement. Even the cop who wrote my ticket seemed a bit sheepish about enriching the municipal coffers that way.


Nonetheless, our next president won’t be a libertarian. Most Americans like big government when it’s goring someone else’s ox, and don’t really grasp what the concept means anyway. That much should be obvious from the Tea Partiers holding up signs that read, “Keep Your Government Hands Off My Medicare.” Politics has no sense of irony.

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