al-Awlaki assassination underscores urgency of left-libertarian coalitions
More capable legal minds have already written adroitly about the civil liberties nightmare that this due-process-less killing was. Consequently, I won’t delve too deeply into the legal (or moral) ramifications of granting the president the power to unilaterally authorize the killing of an American citizen. Suffice to say that the al-Awlaki precedent—and I have no doubt that, absent significant push-back, it will become precedent—is absolutely abhorrent and an affront to liberal democracy. Instead, on the heels of my latest post on left-libertarian coalitions, I’d like to emphasize the urgency of these partnerships.
One of the first reactions my post elicited was, unsurprisingly, skepticism: Ralph Nader isn’t proposing anything new—libertarians and denizens of the left have had similar stances on a handful of issues for years. These obvious overlaps shouldn’t be sold as constituting “today’s most exciting new political dynamic.” Why should we expect libertarians and progressives to cohere when they haven’t in the past? It’s a fair point.
I’d argue, however, that while the number of issues the two groups have long agreed upon hasn’t skyrocketed, the significance of the issues has. As much as I disagreed with his prescription, Brink Lindsey basically had the correct diagnosis in his original “Liberaltarians” essay: The fusionist alliance between libertarians and the GOP and conservatives has become unworkable. That’s not to say libertarians can never join forces with conservatives on specific issues. But, as the Bush era crystallized so well, the political bond the two camps have is now anachronistic. Prior to Bush, Republican presidents had conducted covert wars and trampled on individual rights. Never before, however, had they launched a preemptive war or so zealously eroded civil liberties, all while increasing the size of government.
At the same time the conservative movement was advancing an agenda inimical to libertarians, the left retained its longstanding commitment to civil liberties and anti-interventionism. Some of this, to be sure, was pure partisanship. Democrats who looked askance at Bush’s warmongering now cheer Obama as he makes the Dems look “tough on terror.” Still, something had changed—chalk it up to the transformative power of 9/11. Issues of war and peace and individual rights were always important, but they began to take on a new significance when the country became enmeshed in overseas occupations and citizens’ library records were suddenly fair game. When Obama took office, the exigency of confronting these issues hadn’t abated. Because of the two-party system, widespread bipartisan agreement—or bipartisan executive agreement—effectively means policy x will continue or agency y will be disbanded. Thus, Obama’s next move was crucial.
And he blew it, as Friday’s killing demonstrated once again.
So how do we go about forestalling the impending bipartisan calcification? If Obama has seemingly cribbed his civil liberties policy from the Bush administration, what’s a civil libertarian to do? Libertarians (Gary Johnson and Ron Paul, most prominently) and left-liberals share stances on this and other vital issues—why not join forces and try our damnedest to shift the post-9/11 paradigm?
More specifically, here’s what I offered in a comment on my own post:
As far as I can tell, there are two strategic categories when it comes to left-libertarian coalitions: elite and non-elite. Under the first, I’d include electoral politics (caucusing for Gary Johnson) and legislative politics (Barney Frank and Ron Paul joining forces on a bill). The second category is non-elite bridge-building—essentially, opening a dialogue between libertarians and the left and beginning to form political relationships with one another.
I guess I don’t expect these alliances to radically realign the partisan makeup of the country. The role I see for said alliances is pressuring politicians and changing the elite conversation on these issues.
Partisanship will inevitably get in the way, as reactions to al-Awlaki death again highlighted. But we’re forced to work within our political milieu, imperfect as it may be. Some political-science research at least suggests that there is a tipping point at which citizens, when continuously confronted by incongruous information, dispense with “motivated reasoning” and adjust their views accordingly. Partisanship, then, isn’t an incorrigible scourge.
As for Erik’s recent ruminations on democracy and libertarianism, they were excellent (as were the rejoinders). But I’m not sure how pertinent they were to the alliance I’ve been proposing. I actually do believe that robust democracy and unalloyed libertarianism are incompatible—it’s one of the many reasons I’m not a libertarian. If I thought that short-term alliances with libertarians would undermine the development of a more vibrant democratic society, I wouldn’t sign on. But that’s not what lefties should be looking for out of the partnership.
And as for the skeptics, what’s your viable alternative?