The American Enterprise Institute (AEI) sponsored what it called a debate on February 8 over the question “Are libertarians a part of the conservative movement?” The contenders (although orators would be more accurate as it was frequently difficult to determine who was arguing what), were Matt Welch, editor in chief of Reason magazine and Jonah Goldberg, National Review Online editor, syndicated columnist, and AEI fellow.
The names of all the usual suspects were invoked: Locke, Hayek, Mises, Rand, Paul, Rothbard, Meyer, et al., along with allusions to their principles. References to actual developments in American law, policy, and everyday living over the last several decades, however, were sparse. An otherwise uninformed observer might get the impression, based on the content that night, that any distinctions between libertarians and mainstream Republicans were remote, abstract and ideological ones with little potential impact on the human condition.
Media celebrities like Rush Limbaugh, Bill O’Reilly, Sean Hannity, Ann Coulter, Dennis Miller, and others calling themselves conservatives were never mentioned. Since these public figures have scores of millions of listeners and readers who go by that name, that gives them a considerable stake in the word’s popular definition. Prominent libertarians such as Lew Rockwell, Jacob Hornberger, James Bovard, Sheldon Richman, William Norman Grigg, and Glenn Greenwald are in near perpetual opposition to the public positions of the aforementioned, but these kinds of real-world differences never came up in the “debate” for some reason. Goldberg argued that both camps have common roots in the classical liberalism of the 19th century. Welch left that notion uncontested ostensibly because he believes it himself.
The idea that there is political kinship between people calling themselves “dittoheads,” buying copies of Who’s Looking Out For You, or missing the last President Bush and those who can faithfully paraphrase Nock is essentially propaganda in this election cycle. Prospects are grim for a Republican presidential nominee if he cannot rely on the antistatist vote in November. But the memory hole isn’t deep enough to bury the fact that Obama’s most authoritarian and supraconstitutional policies were inherited nearly verbatim from George Bush Jr.