I have blogged extensively in recent months about what I view as an inevitable alliance between the American Left and libertarians that will eventually replace the longstanding alliance between libertarians and the American Right that existed in the context of the Republican coalition. I have also said, however, that I don't think that the Dem Party coalition is quite ready to accommodate libertarians in its fold, at least as long as it contains a considerable populist element (best represented by the pro-Hillary elements of white, "working class" voters). I expect these voters to slowly move towards the Republican Party, with its emphasis on American exceptionalism and power, so-called "traditional values," and increasing nativism. As these voters leave the coalition of the Left for the coalition of the Right, Dem Party politics will be less anchored by these elements, and able to stake out stronger positions on social and civil liberties issues.
The Dems' - and Obama's - recent capitulation on warrantless wiretapping and telecom immunity should, I think, be viewed as much as an attempt to appease these wavering voters as anything else. To be sure, campaign contributions from the telecoms certainly helped, but those contributions would have been meaningless if there were no elements of the Dem coalition that support warrantless wiretapping and telecom immunity. This is being portrayed by some as a "move to the center," and to a certain extent it is - socially conservative, economically liberal populists have become very much a "swing vote" that has become increasingly Republican in recent years, just as economically conservative, socially liberal voters (sometimes roughly and somewhat inaccurately described as "libertarians") have become increasingly Democrat. But as Glenn Greenwald correctly points out, this "move to the center" doesn't necessarily help Democrats, and may even hinder them in the sense that it forces Democrats to portray themselves as just "Republican-lite." To make matters worse, though, it results in policy decisions that are virtually indistinguishable from Republicans on issues like civil liberties and foreign policy, as well as cultural issues. But by standing strong on civil liberties and foreign policy issues, Dems actually wind up forging a new coalition of sorts - one that appeals to lots of disaffected Republicans (such as libertarians) even as it turns off the so-called "white working class."
Principled Dems who long ago accepted the death of socialism (ie, most Dems under the age of 40) should not resist this changing coalition, but should instead embrace it, as it allows them to actually push forward proposals consistent with their political beliefs.
As long as Obama continues this so-called "move to the center," what he is really doing is simply seeking to maintain the existing Dem Party coalition, hoping that the more ideological liberals continue to support him as simply the "lesser of two evils." In so doing, it is likely that the end result - even if Obama wins - will be simply more of the same, and a style of government that is substantively very little different from McCain. If that will be the end result, then what, exactly, are liberals voting for?
It is my belief that liberals would instead do well to try to push the Dem Party into a position where they have no choice but to grow a backbone on civil liberties and foreign policy. After all, it is beyond dispute that the Dems will maintain control of both houses of Congress this year. Wouldn't liberals be happier if they had a Republican President who was actually being thwarted in his attempts to restrict civil liberties and engage in an aggressive foreign policy than a Dem President who was indistinguishable from a Republican, except that he was unrestrained in his attempts to restrict civil liberties and engage in aggressive foreign policy in the name of "moving to the center"?
To be sure, some liberals will say that it may be true that Obama is only the lesser of two evils on foreign policy and civil liberties, but at least the Dems will be able to push through Progressive economic policy. And if you are really that concerned with pushing through a more "Progressive" economic policy, then I really can't say much, although the combination of aggressive foreign policy, abuse of civil liberties, and more interventionist economic policy is a really disturbing nightmare for libertarians; on top of that, it seems very few Dems are actually all that much in favor of large-scale economic interventions.
Which brings me to my point: liberals/Progressives whose top priority this election is to restore civil liberties and put a halt to neo-conservatism ought to throw their weight behind a candidate whose entire campaign is built around the restoration of civil liberties and putting a halt to neo-conservatism. It may be that candidate will not win; however, if Obama loses or wins only narrowly, the vote for said third party candidate will send an effective message to the Dem Party that it needs to start taking a stand for civil liberties, in much the same way that the huge vote for Perot in 1992 sent a message to Republicans to start adopting stronger anti-immigration policies (few recall that until the mid-1990s, both parties were quite split on immigration), and to become bigger budget hawks (in which they succeeded for a few years). The result was a Republican Party that few would say cow-towed to the Dem President; indeed, I would even argue that the result was a Dem President who was forced to be the most economically conservative President in recent history.
And that is the opportunity I think Bob Barr may present to principled liberals - the opportunity to force the Dems to actually fight for issues like civil liberties and a less aggressive foreign policy. To be sure, most modern liberals may be ideologically closer to Ralph Nader than Bob Barr (though perhaps not as much as they think). But I do not believe that a vote for Ralph Nader would actually push the Dems to act more strongly on civil liberties and foreign policy - the man is too closely associated with economic issues for a Nader vote to be viewed as primarily a civil liberties and foreign policy vote. Barr, on the other hand, has made civil liberties and foreign policy the primary focus of his campaign, and a vote for Barr can only be interpreted as a firm rebuke of Republican assaults on civil liberties and foreigners, as well as Dem capitulations thereto.
More on the "move to the center" silliness at memeorandum.
Thoreau has a slightly, umm, different take on what to do about Dems who don't stand up for civil liberties:
"...[F]rom now on I’ll keep kicking them until they reflexively lash out at Republican hawks, and reflexively buckle under to the ACLU. “Bad Pelosi!” (KICK!) “Bad Pelosi!” (KICK!) “Refuse to hold that vote!” (KICK!) “I said REFUSE TO HOLD THAT VOTE!” (KICK!) “CAN’T YOU F*CKING HEAR ME? I SAID REFUSE TO LET THAT BILL COME TO A VOTE OR I’LL KICK YOU AGAIN! DON’T MAKE ME DONATE MONEY TO THE GREEN PARTY, YOU LATTE-SIPPING CAPITULATION-MONKEY!” Eventually, they’ll be so habituated to being kicked that they’ll fold at the merest hint that a civil libertarian might say something mean about them."
Also- John Schwenkler responds to this post, saying:
"I’d certainly be happy to see this happen, though I am sadly sure that it will not. That so many generally clear-headed progressives have been so incredibly soft on Barack Obama’s frequent slides into foreign policy “centrism” and capitulations to the Bush Administration on such things as telecom amnesty - not to mention his support for disastrous domestic policies like ethanol subsidies - has been deeply disappointing, and the fact is that if it keeps up the Democrats are very quickly going to find that they have become the very same sorts of blind, knee-jerk, unthinking supporters of “their guy” as those who drove the GOP coalition into the ground."