So this is something that I’ve wanted to talk about for a while now, and this David Weigel piece in Bloomberg Politics has finally prompted me to do so.
I think that there’s a tendency in places, especially places like Reason or Reddit to treat Senators Bernie Sanders and Rand Paul as diametrically opposed opposites in their respective 2016 primaries (Democratic and Republican), which makes a certain amount of truth on the surface. After all, Bernie Sanders is a self-proclaimed democratic socialist who wants to nationalize healthcare and expand Social Security, while Rand Paul is a “libertarian-ish” conservative who wants to flatten out taxes and shrink the government. These are obviously impossible to reconcile, right?
Not so. Like Weigel points out, there is actually a fair amount of overlap between the two candidates’ support systems — namely, civil libertarians, antiwar activists, people who fight against bailouts and corporate welfare, and anti-corruption reformers (and probably a few universal basic income supporters, wherever my sweet people may hide). I would argue that not only is this a predictable occurrence, it’s an inevitable and ultimately positive one.
The thing is, Bernie and Rand are not really on opposite sides. They have disagreements, definitely, and not just on the proper role of government: Rand Paul is a pretty hardcore social conservative in ways that other libertarians, like 2012 Libertarian Party nominee Gary Johnson, actively rejects, and this is the kind of thing that holds me at bay; if I had to choose between Rand and Bernie, I choose Bernie in a heartbeat, in a lot of ways because of that. That’s not nothing, but, even counting social issues and the philosophical role of government, they agree on 75%-80% of issues — even less than the average progressive and the average libertarian, I would guess. They’re both civil libertarian reformers, fighting against an overzealous corporatist war state and an entrenched political machine that hates them. They are, in that way, insurgent candidates in their respective parties, and, for that reason, they shouldn’t be treated as opposites. They should be working together.
This is not without precedent. Ralph Nader has floated the idea of a progressive-libertarian alliance, and, in 2008, progressive Democrat Dennis Kucinich said that he would seriously consider choosing libertarian hero (and near-best friend) Ron Paul as his running mate. Progressives and libertarians share differing views on economics (mostly), but they share a common enemy: the corporatist war state.
This needs to be understood and embraced. After all, how often do left and right statists work together to wage wars, to levy unfair taxes, to restrict liberty and trample equality? They do this all the time. Every mainstream bipartisan act of Congress in the modern political era is an instance of statists putting aside their differences to expand the state in one way or another, in a way that will either rile progressives, libertarians, or both. So why not fight back? Why not argue about capital gains taxes after surveillance and war and bailouts have been stopped, after prohibition has been reeled back and our justice system reformed, after the moneychangers get chased out of the temple and the dignity of democracy restored to Congress? Progressives and libertarians agree on significantly more than right and left statists do, so maybe the time is right to capitalize on that.
Contrary to the headline, I’m not really suggesting that Bernie Sanders and Rand Paul run for president together (although an independent ticket of the two of them would lay serious waste to Bush and Clinton in the general election, I think — maybe not enough to win, but enough to make a point). Instead, I think they should be recognized for what they both are: co-heirs to Ron Paul’s revolution, to Nader’s raiders. In their separate parties, they can agitate to make positive change, and should. If their fanbases and campaigns understood how much Bernie can stand with Rand, how much Rand can feel the Bern, then mountains can be moved.
Progressives, libertarians: You don’t disagree on that much. Not where it matters. Not more than you both do with left and right statists. So stand up. Work together. Make things right again.