I see that Markos Moulitsas is busy selling his libertarian Democrat trope again, this time at Cato. I suppose, as a nominal libertarian (I'm really more of a small-r republican, actually), I ought to be flattered that the Democrats are at least looking for our votes now. The Republican response to libertarians leaving seems to run along the lines of 'Speaker Pelosi...President Hilary Clinton..' and so on. Granted, not necessarily pleasant prospects (although I really don't know enough about Representative Pelosi to have any idea if she'd be any good as speaker, and it's not like we could do a lot worse than Representative Hastert), but in six years of Republican dominance or near-dominance, there hasn't been much (anything? Surely there must be something?) to point to in Republican accomplishments that would warm the cockles of a libertarian's heart. No Child Left Behind and Medicare Plan D are the two signature domestic achievements of the past six years, and both of those are libertarian nightmares. Sure, the Republicans cut taxes, but since they've accelerated spending on a curve that looks disturbingly logarithmic, taxes are going to go back up sooner or later, so the current respite doesn't do much for libertarians either.
However, unlike the old maxim about the enemy of my enemy, the fact Republicans make lousy libertarians is hardly proof that Democrats would make good ones. Indeed, the core principle of the Democratic Party seems to be that government is a good thing. It's hard to square that with the circle of libertarianism that considers government at best a necessary evil. And reading Kos' missive, it becomes clear that, like so many Democrats, he just doesn't understand libertarians. (In fairness, there's little doubt I don't understand Democrats, either.) Exhibit A, a quote from a diarist at Daily Kos named hekebolos, "The fundamental reason that "libertarian" has become "libertarian democrat" is that corporations are becoming more powerful than governments." Oh, please.
I do know that Democrats tend to dismiss libertarian concerns about concentrations of power in government because we don't seem equally as concerned about corporations. There is a very good reason for that, however: beliefs like hekebolos' (and, by extension, Kos) are irrational. Let's take a look at Kos' argument:
As hekebolos further noted, defense contractors now have greater say in what weapons systems get built (via their lobbyists, blackmailing elected officials by claiming that jobs will be lost in their states and districts if weapons system X gets axed). The energy industry dominates the executive branch and has reaped record windfall profits. Our public debt is now held increasingly by private hedge funds. Corporations foul our air and water. They plunder our treasury.
This list, I'm sure, could be added to. Oil and oil services companies can even dictate when and how the most powerful nation on earth decides to go to war. A cabal of major corporate industry is, in fact, more powerful than the government of the most powerful nation on earth–and government is the only thing that can stop them from recklessly exploiting the people and destroying their freedom.
I realize that people don't want to believe this, but business has to deal with one very simple fact: on its own, business cannot force anyone to buy its products. Microsoft can't make you buy Windows, or Office, or any of their other products if you don't want to do so. Even if they have a monopoly, they can't make you buy their products. The complaints Kos and hekebolos make above aren't really a problem of corporations having too much power; they're problems of government having too much power. A simple case in point: where my parents live, the local government recently passed a law stating that everyone with a septic tank would have to get the tank inspected annually. Interestingly enough, there is only one company in their town that inspects septic tanks. That company isn't forcing my parents to use their services, however: the local government is. The same is true with most complaints that a corporation is 'forcing' someone to do something. What is really happening is that the corporation has spent money to get the government to force people to do something that will benefit the corporation. I would submit that the solution to improper use of government power is not necessarily the agglomeration of additional power to the government to prevent such abuses.
This is the kind of talk that makes at least this nominal libertarian very wary of Democrats. One would think that, given the proper concern modern Democrats have for the excessive powers President Bush has attempted to claim for his own, there might actually be some Democrats thinking that the libertarians just might have a point. If the government didn't have as much power as it has accumulated over the past century, it would have been a lot tougher for President Bush to get away with everything he has done over the past five years. If the government didn't have as much power as it does to select winners and losers, companies wouldn't pour nearly as much money into political campaigns. (The typical rejoinder to this is, 'well, we have to have government do some things, and there will still be corruption there,' with the implied result that we may as well have corruption everywhere. I hope I don't have to explain where that argument falls short.) As Barry Goldwater once presciently observed, a government big enough to give you everything you want is big enough to take away everything you have.
This is not to suggest that there cannot be alliances between libertarians and Democrats. When it comes to many civil liberties, Democrats have an excellent record that libertarians can applaud and encourage. And certainly at this time, when a government unified under Republicans appears bent in driving off a cliff, libertarians have little choice but to do everything in our power to return to a divided government. But such alliances will be at best operational, working together on the areas where we do agree while still fighting tooth and nail on other fronts. Attempts to draw libertarians into the Democratic Party, however wise from a tactical sense for the Democrats, will ultimately end with unhappy libertarians.