With Rand Paul out, a lot of libertarians, conservative-libertarians and lib-curious are fumbling around for a new candidate. Ted Cruz looked like he might pick up the liberty vote for a while with his opposition to surveillance. But then he backed out of criminal justice reform and started striking an aggressive tone on foreign policy. Donald Trump is a fool. Hillary Clinton is a power-hungry shill. Rubio doesn’t seem to be going anywhere. So where do we turn? Andrew Kirell asks if it’s … Bernie Sanders
While Sanders’s economic policies deeply conflict with libertarians—single-payer health care, government-funded college tuition for all, etc.—he is their only remaining ally on a slew of other big issues.
And, besides, “there’s this little thing called Congress,” as Michael noted. “Any radical law he tries to pass will run through an obstacle course.”
So the logic goes: With a Republican-controlled Congress—or one remotely close to its current makeup—President Sanders would have a tough time getting his most radical economic policies passed, leaving him to fight for the civil liberties causes that matter to liberals and libertarians alike: e.g., reforms to the criminal justice system, the ongoing drug war, and the government’s surveillance efforts.
In other words, backing a Sanders presidency would mean wagering that Sanders’s most left-wing economic policies wouldn’t come to fruition. And that he’d pull a conservative Congress to the left on civil liberties issues, with the help of cross-partisan allies like Sens. Rand Paul and Mike Lee.
The case for Sanders is this:
- He’s way better on civil liberties that Clinton. Also marijuana, war, surveillance and criminal justice reform. He’s better than her on gun control, although he’s moved Left on that recently. Against the Republicans, he’s better on civil liberties but worse on the second amendment.
- You talk about gridlock? Bernie Sanders and a Republican Congress would give you gridlock on just about every economic issue.
So that’s the libertarian case for Sanders. It’s tempting in this kind of anti-liberty field. But the case against is strong as well:
- Sanders would be 75 years old on inauguration day. His health appears good but it could decay suddenly (to be fair, this is also a concern with Trump and Clinton). This could mean a sudden shift to a Vice President and God knows who Sanders will pick for that. If he picks Clinton, he could get a head cold and find himself removed from office.
- We can not assume that a Republican Congress will continue indefinitely. A Sanders presidency combined with a Democratic Congress could be dangerous.
- Sanders would appoint at least one, maybe two or three justice to the Supreme Court, maybe even one for a retiring conservative. This could be good if he focuses on civil liberties. More likely, he’d appoint some social justice types who would stand back while the federal government did whatever it wanted.
- Sanders has zero foreign policy experience. This has become obvious in the debates. While his philosophy is better than Clinton’s, his lack of any credentials could be a problem. Foreign policy is not something you learn on the fly. I could see a Sanders administration being completely feckless and ineffective. Being against stupid foreign adventures is good. Being able to do that and deal with aggressive foreign powers is better.
That lost one is a big point for me. The one arena where the President has the most authority is foreign policy. It’s a big reason I oppose Trump and a big reason I’m partial to Rubio. Almost every other deficiency in a President can be papered over by a reasonable Congress. But foreign policy is the one place where it can’t.
As I said from the beginning, I prefer Sanders’ honest socialism over Clinton’s dishonest mercantilism. But if its Sanders versus a reasonable Republican, I don’t think you can make the case for Sanders. Not for a conservative and probably not for a libertarian and probably not for this conservative-libertarian.