March 11, 2014

Making Team Liberty: CPAC Debates 21st Century ‘Fusionism’

By: James Velasquez and Dantan Wernecke

There’s a love-hate relationship between conservatives and libertarians. Conservatives like the idea of limited governments, but they have a hard time trusting libertarians on important social issues; on the other side, libertarians are all about free markets, but conservatives seem a little too cozy with their political cronies and strong-arm social policies.

But if the Tea Party is teaching anything, it’s the necessity for mainstream conservatives to bring libertarians into the fold. The result: a panel at CPAC asking “Can Libertarians and Social Conservatives Ever Get Along?”

CitizenLink’s Tom Minnery opened the discussion with a headliner: Marriage. “Sometimes,” he admonished libertarians, “it’s not about what adults want. Sometimes it’s about what children need.”

Alex McCobin, president of Students for Liberty, countered by suggesting that libertarianism, while not a uniform set of beliefs, wanted to be sure that the rights of all were respected. By encouraging the state to recognize only a single type of union—a marriage of a man and woman—it would be discriminating against institutions that wanted to redefine marriage as open to homosexual couples.

But what about the rights of children? This is generally a rough spot for libertarians: Much of their approach to politics assumes rational actors. Matthew Spalding, of Hillsdale’s Kirby Center, moved the question further, saying that “marriage cuts to the nature of things. It’s not just ‘all men are created equal’… we need to respect what marriage is.”

Matt Welch, of Reason magazine, noted that a concern for children might motivate one to sympathize with the efforts of gay couples who try adopting children—something conservatives have struggled with. Spalding responded that, while such a situation would be preferred over dependence on the government, the larger question still persists of what a society wants to encourage.

For many, this is a discussion we’ve had time and again: are there certain social arrangements, usually involving children or those who cannot act reasonably, that government has a duty to be involved in?

Breaking the standstill was Michael Medved, who suggested that conservatives and libertarians were united (shades of William F Buckley’s fusionism) against a common opponent: the modern left. Rather than get lost in argument, he advised embracing “Libertarian means for conservative goals.”

As an example, Medved cited the last few decades of abortion debate. “The pro-life movement,” he said, “has achieved a cut of abortion rates to the lowest point in 30 years. How? By preaching and teaching and reaching people and convincing people.”

Today, and especially around the marriage issue, Medved found some common ground between the two camps: religious liberty and federalism. “I don’t believe,” Medved offered, “that there’s a libertarian here who believes the government can order a group of Catholic nuns in Colorado to cover their employee’s birth control.”

While arguments will persist, the overreaches of government policy will continue to offer both conservatives and libertarians fertile ground for mutual opposition. In order to stifle an oft-united left, intelligent and inclusive positions like those offered by Medved will be crucial.

Follow James Velasquez on Twitter. Image of Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., at CPAC courtesy of Big Stock Photo.