On settling down (politically)
Posted on November 12, 2013 at 4.15 pm
Q. I am curious about your thoughts on the “libertarian phase” many people experience. I myself have switched between having conservative or libertarian political views numerous times over the past decade and am wondering whether you have experience something like this and if you have any advice on how one stays consistent politically. Thank you! — Greg, from the internet.
A. For me, libertarianism hasn’t really been a phase—or rather, if started out that way, it’s stuck around long enough that I think we can officially retire “phase” in favor of a label with a little more permanence. My introduction to politics and interest in liberarianism started pretty simultaneously, though I didn’t have a name for my perspective at the time. You can read that whole story here.
For others, though, the journey to a relatively settled political perspective has more twists and turns. (I say “relatively settled” because no thoughtful worldview is ever set in stone; confidence in one’s opinions is good, but refusal to grow in the face of new evidence is not.) It sounds as if your philosophical history is more along those lines.
I mention all this to say that maybe I’m not the best person to give advice on this subject since I haven’t really done that kind of bouncing back and forth. Nevertheless, I am a blogger, and we do always have at least a few thoughts on nearly every subject, so here goes:
Consider working on an issue-by-issue basis. What I mean is this: Pick a single policy area. It can be fairly broad (e.g. foreign policy, including our various wars, spying, etc.) or fairly narrow (e.g. federal involvement in education).
Read up and follow news primarily on that single issue for a set period of time.Try to look at perspectives to the left and right of you, both modern andhistoric. Keep a running blog series or even just a Word doc with the important facts and interesting perspectives you encounter.
At the end of your set period of time, hash it out. Having looked at the evidence and persuasive arguments from people who disagree with each other, where do you fall? Don’t worry if your opinion on Issue A is more libertarian and your opinion on Issue B is more conservative. Just make sure you’ve given all sides a fair shake and could explain to someone with no expertise in this matter why you’ve taken the position you find most convincing.
Do this repeatedly for multiple issues on which you’ve changed your mind more than once. Maybe give them each a month, depending on your schedule.
When you’ve gone through all the issues you think it’s necessary to examine in this way, step back and look at the big picture. Are you philosophically consistent across issues, or do hypocrisies jump out at you? If they do, you may need to go back to the drawing board and look at some of your issues in relation to each other rather than in isolation.
Then, looking at the big picture, see if you fall more toward the libertarian or conservative side of things—or maybe you’ll even end up more anarchist, or progressive, or something else entirely.
Fitting into a single label ultimately isn’t hugely important. I know lots of people who say they feel conservative around libertarians and libertarian around conservatives. Rather than identifying entirely with any one group’s views, your goal should be to find a place of conviction where you can more or less stay (again: this is about being relatively settled, not set in stone). That resting place should be philosophically consistent, feel intellectually honest, and match with your broader system of ethics.
I can’t guarantee that this process will work (it’s kind of an abbreviated and intentional version of how I got to my own opinions), but maybe it will help. The underlying point, I think, is that if you can get to a good place politically, I doubt you’ll have as much difficulty staying there.
On crappy polling (and whether 22% is an accurate count of American libertarians)
Posted on October 29, 2013 at 12.10 pm
Today the Washington Post reported that a new poll found that 22% of Americans identify as libertarians. This is interesting data, to be sure, but I find a lot wanting in the question design. In fact, I don’t think it’s going to far to say that this is a crappy poll.
First, much of the poll language focuses on labels and identifications — and I’d say it damages the usefulness of the results. For instance, the pollsters asked people if they thought the term “libertarian” described them — but a previous poll showed that a third of 18-to-32-year-olds don’t even know what the term means. Other age ranges are probably similar in their ignorance, which means that any poll asking people if they’re libertarians, without providing a fair explanation, is inevitably skewed. We need to be polling with definitions, not potentially confusing labels.
I’d far rather see an update of this 2011 poll, in which respondents were asked if they were conservative or liberal on social and fiscal issues. This allowed the results to be divided into four categories: libertarian, liberal, conservative, and communitarian (what I’d typically label “statist”) based on their responses for each category. Add a foreign policy component to that poll and do it again and I think you’d get a far more accurate picture of American philosophical leanings than this research WaPo reports.
Second, the poll questions also fall short in the categories given as options for describing one’s political views. Here are the choices people got:
- Very conservative
- Very liberal
Now, if you know anything about libertarians at all, you know that many really don’t like labeling themselves as conservative, liberal, or moderate. So giving these categories as the possible answers to “In general, would you describe your political viewsas…” (which isn’t even grammatically correct, given how the answers are phrases, but I digress) is guaranteed to produce inaccurate results.
What I do like about this poll is its issue-specific questions. Respondents were given pairs to two opposing policy statements and asked to rate their preference for one or the other on a seven-point scale. It’s perhaps noteworthy that only the question on gun control skewed toward the non-libertarian end of the scale, and the gay marriage question had the most extreme answers (the highest numbers at opposite ends of the scale). I guess that level of polarization on gay marriage shouldn’t be shocking, but it is, a little.
I’ve used a yellow star to mark the winning position in this graphic (or, in cases where the two sides had little enough difference that it could be within the margin of error, put the star in the middle):
(Click here to view a larger version of these answers in the original questions document.)
Other fascinating tidbits:
- About 5% of our population has never heard of the Republican and Democratic Parties.
- Sen. Rand Paul has both more name recognition and higher favorable ratings than Sen. Ted Cruz.
- 20 years in the national spotlight has paid off for Hillary Clinton, who only barely misses having better name recognition than the Republican and Democratic Parties. Also, way more people like her than like Biden.
- The 2016 Democratic field leans heavily toward Hillary; the 2016 GOP field is once again alllllll over the place.
If you can be in DC on 10/26, be at this.
Posted on October 17, 2013 at 12.36 pm
ATTENTION EVERYONE IN DRIVING DISTANCE OF DC: You need to go to this rally.
- What: A rally to deliver 500k anti-NSA petitions to Congress
- Why: The NSA is spying on everyone, breaking the law, and trampling our rights
- When: Saturday, October 26th, 2013 — the 12th anniversary of the signing of the PATRIOT Act — from noon to 3 p.m.
- Where: Washington, DC — marchers will gather at Union Station
- Who: YOU! For real, if you can make it to DC for this, make it.
The rally is sponsored by organizations from across the political spectrum, from the ACLU and Demand Progress to FreedomWorks and the Competitive Enterprise Institute (and Young Americans for Liberty, where I work! — though we’re still waiting for them to add our logo).
This is not about left vs. right. This is about telling the government to stop treating us like criminals…and to demand a FULL investigation of the NSA.
Learn more and sign the petition here: https://rally.stopwatching.us
Please reblog to spread the word. We can’t afford to have this be poorly attended.
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