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Would Justin Amash Really ‘Tear Down the Left-Right Paradigm’?

The libertarian-trending George F. Will seems cautiously optimistic about what an ambitious Rep. Justin Amash could mean for a Republican brand in flux. He writes of the 33-year-old House member, who’s mulling a run to replace Michigan Sen. Carl Levin:

Last month, when [Sen. Rand] Paul was waging his 13-hour filibuster, Amash made his first visit to the Senate floor and was struck by the contrast with the House, which he says is “good fun” and “loud and boisterous.” The Senate would be more so with Amash inside, and Michigan Republicans, having lost six consecutive Senate elections, might reasonably want to try something new. But as Amash undertakes to “tear down the left-right paradigm,” he must consider how the delicate but constructive fusion of libertarians and social conservatives has served Republicans, and the sometimes inverse relationship between being interesting and being electable.

Amash is mindful of two things: 1) that there’s a demand among Republican elites for a more “moderate” face of the party; and 2) that lawmakers in the self-styled liberty movement have a reputation for being the opposite of moderate.

And so Amash surveys the scene and calls himself, well, a “moderate”—because, he tells Will, “the point of the Constitution is to moderate the government.”

Reason’s Brian Doherty appreciates Amash’s rhetorical jujitsu, but doubts it will fly politically:

surely deep down he understands that his libertarian leanings scare lots of voters. He’d certainly be painted by the Democrats as the candidate out to destroy Medicare, Social Security, the safety net, clean food and air, and our national security if the Democratic Party had to fight him for a precious Senate seat.

If “libertarians are the true moderates” turns out to be a flop in the near term, what about the ideological medium- and long-term? Will Amash and co. “tear down the left-right paradigm”? The liberty Republicans see an opposition party embracing, and their own party halfheartedly resisting, a collectivist drift on government spending, civil liberties, and economic freedom. Can Congress’s liberty caucus simultaneously push to restore its vision of limited government and make the Republican once again a national party?

If it does, it will be because both parties will have coalesced around variants of radical individualism. What Amash fails to appreciate, in my view, is the practical interpretation of the Democratic agenda. Where Amash sees collectivism, voters increasingly see a distant and neutral guarantor of personal liberation and self-actualization. Amash sees high taxes, Big Brother, and mass gymnastics; the “coalition of the ascendant” sees government creating “ladders of opportunity” while abjuring moral judgmentalism.

A politics that further marginalizes the Rick Santorums of the world, that elevates individualism at the expense of the party’s waning ethos of communitarianism—and while continuing to frustrate the Koch Brothers’ economic agenda—is not what Justin Amash has in mind.

Yet unwittingly that’s what he’s paving the way for: a shattered left-right paradigm that yields a new left-right fusionism.

I don’t think George Will would find this constructive at all.

about the author

Scott Galupo is a freelance writer living in Arlington, Va. In addition to contributing to The American Conservative, he writes for TheWeek.com and reviews live music for The Washington Post. He was formerly a staff writer for The Washington Times and worked on Capitol Hill. He lives with his wife and two children and writes about politics to support his guitar habit.

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