Believe it or not, for a period of time in the mid-2000s, it was trendy for some liberals to refer to themselves as “libertarians.”
The implication was these liberals were against the Iraq War, against the PATRIOT Act and for gay marriage – but they weren’t those crazy wackos who wanted to raise taxes and turn doctors into government employees. No, they were mavericks – people who didn’t support former President George W. Bush but respected anti-war Republicans like Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas.
Then President Barack Obama was elected, and somehow it all fell apart. Tea Partiers were the new Libertarians. These guys also thought of themselves as mavericks, too. They weren’t big fans of Bush, but they sure didn’t like all this big government legislation that Obama was pushing through. They included men like Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., who somehow transformed from a mainstream, Iraq-supporting Republican to a principled debt hawk in the blink of an eye. Liberals went from respecting libertarians to hating their guts.
So when former Gov. Mitt Romney voiced his support last year for making cuts to many government programs, including the Federal Emergency Management Agency, it didn’t come as a surprise. All the GOP primary hopefuls were calling for severe cuts to federal spending. But now that a serious storm has battered the East Coast, the candidate has been forced to backtrack. If his supporters are such stalwart Libertarians, what gives?
The truth is, Romney’s seeming flip-flop on the FEMA issue is to be expected. It’s easy to paint the government as an unwieldy behemoth in broad, vague terms. But surveys have repeatedly shown Americans support most individual government programs – Social Security, Medicare and so on. They just don’t like paying for them. Thus, it’s easy for Romney to convince Republicans Obama is wasting money. But when he points to individual programs, the results can be politically dangerous.
For similar reasons, it made sense so many liberals were “libertarians” during the Bush years: They feared a Republican administration and what it was doing with their tax dollars. But when Obama was sworn in, that all disappeared. Consider the targeted drone strikes that have occurred recently. Liberals elected Obama, and they (mostly) trust him. But if Bush or Romney were ordering the attacks, many would call it unconstitutional and a gross violation of human rights. While a few on the left have expressed this opinion, it hasn’t been a major campaign issue.
Likewise, it’s dubious Romney would be able to cut the budget anywhere near the extent he claims without eliminating popular programs and drawing bipartisan ire. But if he’s elected president, Republicans won’t care. As long as their man is in charge of said programs (and ends the most unpopular one, the Affordable Care Act) conservatives will be perfectly happy.
Nov. 6, America will decide whether Romney or Obama spends the next four years in the White House. But liberals take heart: Neither candidate will make significant changes to Medicare, or Social Security or FEMA for that matter. And if Romney is elected, progressives will be protesting in front of the White House within a year, brandishing the Constitution and shouting about the government overstepping its role.
Gus McNair (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a senior majoring in journalism and English.