Libertarian Populism and a Woman’s Appeal
In the chattering-class crosstalk of the past month or so, “libertarian populism” has been the hot idea. As articulated by people like Tim Carney and Ben Domenech, libertarian populism gives the GOP and conservative movement a way to harness the widespread dissatisfaction with the state of the country without abandoning free market principles. By waging a war on “bigness” in all its forms, libertarian populism reveals how large corporate powers co-opt and are co-opted by big government to serve the vested interests of a ruling class in ways that unfairly disadvantage the little guy playing by a different set of rules.
There has been significant pushback both from an uncharitable left and a more charitable right, but it wasn’t until this week that Lori Sanders of the R Street Institute articulated a significant problem that libertarian populism will have to address before it can really make the leap to prime-time. As Sanders puts it:
Development of the libertarian populist platform is well underway, and includes such encouraging ideas as breaking up the big banks and ending the drug war.
But the problem with libertarian populism, as it exists so far, isn’t so much the policy prescriptions. The problem is that the story is a boy’s story.
Sanders couches her argument with all the appropriate qualifications about there being no unanimous “women’s” viewpoint or appeal, and neatly disposes of the nurture vs. nature argument to lay the plain facts bare: “it’s relatively uncontroversial to assert, based on a wealth of surveys and psychological profiles, that men and women tend to respond differently to different kinds of narratives,” and
If libertarian populism isn’t pitched in a way that appeals to women, then it’s unlikely to prove terribly helpful to Republicans, who desperately need to make inroads with the single largest demographic bloc that has turned its back on the party.
The populism of libertarian populism is one issue, as what makes the philosophy so appealing to many (especially men) is how it offers them a way to take up pitchforks and slake their bloodlust against the cronyist game-riggers. Such rhetoric of destruction is understandably less appealing to the fairer sex, who tend to be less inclined towards militaristic thinking.
The libertarianism, taken too far, can be another danger to assembling a broad coalition. When Ben Domenech wrote,
Where the traditional trends of Thomas Dewey tend Republicanism toward fixing the institutions of government and society, this new strand had more in common with Charles Murray, whose ‘What It Means to Be a Libertarian’ makes the case not for fixing the departments of Commerce, Agriculture, Energy, and Housing and Urban Development, but for eliminating them and replacing them with, and I quote, ‘Nothing.’
The libertarian populist rhetoric…advocates a complete winding down of something that is known (though admittedly failing) in favor of returning power to state and community structures that, in some communities, just don’t exist anymore.
American men have traditionally been the foundation of the rugged individualism base, while women have, statistically, shown greater concern for propping up the poor and dispossessed. While neither has an exclusive hold on their respective concerns, conservatives of all people should be able to appreciate the unity of human wisdom that is found when the complementary parts of the human experience are brought together.
If that doesn’t persuade them, their interest might. Sanders notes, “The female vote went for Obama 55 percent to 44 percent in 2012. Republican presidential candidates haven’t managed to win the female vote since a narrow 51 percent to 49 percent victory in 1988.”
This is not to say that conservatives need abandon the strong points and principles they receive from the libertarian populist insurgency. But they must temper its wisdom with what they obtain from other parts of an ascendant conservative coalition. Learning from women could be a very fruitful place to begin.