THE PLANK DECEMBER 21, 2006
Jonathan Chait is certainly a tenacious debater, but I would like to end this "liberaltarian" exchange (or at least my part in it) on a conciliatory note. After all, my purpose in writing the article that Chait has attacked so relentlessly was simply to suggest that liberals and libertarians have more in common than they realize.
So let me confound Chait by agreeing with him. He puts forward Bill Clinton as a model for how Democrats can win and govern at the national level. I'll go along with that! Clinton pushed NAFTA, the WTO, and normalized trade relations with China through Congress; he signed a landmark welfare reform bill and a pro-market overhaul of farm programs; he reappointed Alan Greenspan to chair the Fed and exercised admirable fiscal restraint. Any future Democratic candidate who promised a similar record of accomplishment should be able to compete effectively for libertarian-leaning votes.
To capture the "economically conservative, socially liberal" center, Democrats don't have to govern exclusively out of the Cato Institute playbook. Nor do they have to lead with their chins by emphasizing controversial or unpopular positions. They just have to be better than the Republicans--which, at present at least, isn't so hard.
There are plenty of possibilities for a politically feasible liberaltarian agenda. Opposition to the Federal Marriage Amendment and torture are established Democratic positions that libertarians endorse, while support for stem cell research is overwhelmingly popular with centrists of all stripes. Comprehensive immigration reform, along the lines of that blocked by House Republicans earlier this year, enjoys broad public support. On economics, what is needed is a clear, credible commitment to market-led economic growth. A sustained campaign against the scandal of corporate welfare would allow Democrats to demonstrate that commitment while simultaneously sounding populist themes.
But partisan politics and the short-term policy agenda are not my primary concerns. What I am most interested in promoting is an intellectual movement that, over time, can transcend the reactionary, red-versus-blue politics of recent years. A movement, in other words, that embraces both economic and cultural dynamism. And to my way of thinking, such a movement fits most naturally within the larger liberal tradition. Chait, it seems clear, wants nothing to do with such a venture. But I think many people, regardless of whether they have tended to vote Republican or Democratic in the past, are hungry for it.