Which Political Party Do You Believe?

This Russ Roberts post reminded me of a question I've been kicking around in my head lately.  When Republicans use free market rhetoric while campaigning, only to reverse when in office, we (most libertarians) decry their hypocrisy and warn not to believe future statements. And likely correctly so.

However, when Democrats spout socialist rhetoric, I would argue most libertarians take it as face value and fear they are speaking their true feelings, unlikely to stab their idealogical constituents in the back.  Why does this assymmetry exist?  Shouldn't we believe the median voter hypothesis? 

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The Democrats socialistic programs, when passed, place more people in the position of having their livelyhood or lifestyle improved (or at least partially funded) by a government handout. Once Democrats get power, it's in their interests to expand federal programs as much as they can get away with, to swell the ranks of future Democratic voters.

For Republicans, there isn't any option that simple. If they shrink government, they swell the ranks of the opposition's voting block by each person they kick off the dole. If they cater to social conservatives, they energize the media and get painted as cave-men, losing the support of the middle.

For my part, I'm not surprised that Republicans often seem to do so little. Their party is only truly united by a horror of the Democratic plan and where it will take us.

I'm content with NAFTA and the occasional round of deregulation. It beats the hell out of nationalized health care.

Good observation

It's probably the "median" assumption to think that both parties probably believe their rhetoric - while avoiding the extremes - and that politics is the art of the possible, after all.

When I read mainstream right libertarians talking about the modern liberal state's obsession with the poor and government intervention, I think of the leftist decrying the upper echelons of Democratic party power giving in to Thomas Friedmanesque globalization and "free trade", selling out working stiffs for corporate constituents wanting to outsource to remain competitive.

No doubt, empathy is a healthy trait.

Trent, Good to Hear From You

Good question, Trent. I don't have an answer.

However, casual observation suggests the pattern is reflected on the left. Far left friends of mine find Democrats to be liars--not nearly as socialist as they proclaim to be--while, I assume, they take Republicans at their (evil) word.

Perhaps we make unwarranted inferences based on what our friends say. We hear Republicans say "the free market can be good" and we understand that to mean "the free market is the answer to everything and must be instantiated everywhere." Leftists hear Democrats say "equality can be good" and they understand "full Communism must be implemented." Whereas, perhaps, both groups intend something subtler and less extreme than what their allies presume: some redistribution would be nice, or some deregulation might be beneficial. Or maybe both groups lie, but because with one side the true position and the lied about position are both bad by the other side's lights, the lie is ignored.

I think Scott is at least

I think Scott is at least partly right. I remember back during the 2000 election I was reading a secularist website run by an extreme liberal, and he'd periodically have a story up that said something like, "Bush will end social security and eliminate the SEC and switch over to voucher-based education, oh noes!" To which my usual reaction was, "I wish, but ain't gonna happen."

Caplan says

Caplan says its pessimistic bias. Sounds good to me. I've noticed it in the form of Democrats who fear the next Republican president. It doesn't make much sense to assume the next Republican in office will be able to achieve a whole lot more in conservative directions than the last one did. Not to go off on too much of a tangent, but I hate the way the start of a new Presidency so completely eclipses the end of the old one. I wish people were paying a lot more attention to the Bush legacy now that its almost written, if only to recognize how much didn't happen. the actual policies implemented the past 8 years square pretty much with the median voter.

plenty of democrats favor free markets

This democrat is honestly not worried about the next republican achieving more in conservative (in the Burkean or libertarian sense) directions than the last. It ain't gonna happen, but if it did, I'd cheer it.

No, what I'm worried about is the next republican achieving even more in statist/socialist directions than the last, like more wars, more warrantless spying on our own citizens and more asinine corporate subsidies. On the last front, I can't say that I expect more from Obama or Clinton than I do from McCain, but on the first, the gap is wide and significant. One party wants to get out of Iraq and is not saber-rattling vis-a-vis Iran, the other is dead set on continuing the current absolutely disastrous policy in the middle east.

Do you really not consider what's gone on in justice and Guantanamo the last 6 years to be a significant setback to the rule of law? It's like Nixon all over again, except instead of the whole country being up in arms and impeaching him, pretty much nothing significant has happened.

Honestly most democrats don't fear conservatives because they are too free market. Bill Clinton was probably more free market friendly than Bush Jr., and plenty of democrats would be satisfied with Hillary (presumably sharing his views) as the nominee. We fear *Republican* conservatives because they've been moving in the direction of a police state that's constantly at war pretty much since Reagan. McCain says he's happy to stay in Iraq for a hundred years, and he sure ain't voting against telecom amnesty.

Look at what the #1 issue was for voters in the democratic primaries: Iraq. We want out. Not in 100 years or even 10 years, but as soon as it can realistically be accomplished.

Party of war

What party had the White House when we entered our four major wars of the 20th century - namely WWI, WWII, Korea, and Vietnam? When the US went to war in 2001 forward, was the primary cause the man in the White House, or an unprecedented foreign attack on the mainland?

an unprecedented foreign

an unprecedented foreign attack on the mainland?

Please, let it be sarcastic?


What similar attack do you have in mind? Pearl Harbor was Hawaii, not mainland. Anyway, this is at most going to be a quibble, since even if there was ever a comparable attack on the mainland before, it is still unlikely that the US would not go to war following such an attack, regardless of who occupied the WH. So the point remains.

I figured he was talking

I figured he was talking about 1812.

What about 1812?

1812 is the name of a year and of a war. What attack in 1812, either the year or war, was similar to Pearl Harbor and 9/11, in those dimensions on which 9/11 and Pearl Harbor have so often been compared (which is why I added the qualifier "mainland")?

The burning of Washington DC?

Most visitors to Washington DC, including myself, learn about the burning. This might in some dimensions be compared to Pearl Harbor and 9/11. I think it is profoundly different, but for the sake of argument I'll grant you it. As I said, I think the point is a quibble, but maybe you want to construct an argument out of it.

When you say the largest, it

When you say the largest, it implies both a relative and an absolute quantification. I'll grant you the relative, not the absolute.


I said since Reagan.

Back in 1940 democrats were segregationist too. Wilson was probably the most disgusting bigot ever to sit in the oval office.

Does that mean a vote for Obama is a vote for Jim Crow?

I'm disappointed, I figured you'd at least find the Bosnia line if you were going to go here.

shameless cherrypicking

Your own shamelessly cherrypicked cutoff is a weakness of your argument, not mine. While Democrats changed in some respects they did not change in all respects so yes, it is legitimate to take lessons from history beyond your own apparently narrow window of interest. For example FDR's New Deal still helps us to understand where today's Democrats are coming from. As does his foreign policy. And my point is not that Democrats are especially warlike, but that they are not especially peacelike. My point is that war's causes are largely external to the party affiliation of the President. FDR did not create the fascist enemy and Bush did not mastermind the WTC attack.The country predictably went to war following 9/11 and just as predictably grew tired of a bogged down war. Who happened to occupy the WH was a matter of chance.

A few of the responses both

A few of the responses both here and at Caplan's refer to the difference between the party that promises to increase its power and the party that promises to decrease. You can take the word of the former, but not the latter, for obvious reasons.

 A response to this requires some thought about some of the non electoral checks that exist against the Democrat's dream agenda. I can attempt to offer some. Here are some reasons I don't fear the Democrats (too much):

1. They don't have enough money to do these things and cannot realistically come by enough without paying too high a price.

2. Republican (and Democrat) politicians in Congress are loyal to interest groups that support them and will not vote for policy that seriously upsets these groups. The degree to which the new policy modifies the status quo is proportional to the degree to which it is going to upset existing interest groups. Their representation will then go to bat for them.

3. When the economy is hurting, the party in power is blamed. The Democrats know enough economics to understand what will send the economy into a downturn. They hire economists to advise them on how much they can get away with, how much room they have with which to play. But they aren't interested in destroying the economy.

4. Democrats in office are concerned primarily with keeping office. They are concerned with "expanding their power" only if it helps them keep the office. They aren't going to rock the boat too much if it puts their seat in jeapardy. It is very often enough to simply be for a particular policy, but not do anything to implement it. Politicians from both parties do this a lot.

I don't believe it for a minute

"Look at what the #1 issue was for voters in the democratic primaries: Iraq. We want out. Not in 100 years or even 10 years, but as soon as it can realistically be accomplished."

No way. If so, why did they reject the one candidate that pledged to do just that: Ron Paul? It's safe to say that within the confines of a broader Democratic agenda, Iraq was a priority. It may have been the first on the list of issues, but that number was no more weighted than any other.