A libertarianism for conservatives
Nebraska State Senator Laura Ebke is the newest Libertarian election official, and you could fairly call her the highest-ranking elected Libertarian in the country. The LP has no congressmen, U.S. senators or statewide elected officials. Ebke is the only state legislator who affiliates with the party — though in Nebraska’s unicameral legislature, the legislators are technically non-partisan.
Ebke was a Republican until this spring, when she announced she was leaving the GOP. She had first upset party elites, she says, back in 2008 when she worked for Ron Paul’s presidential campaign. Recent clashes with the state’s brusque Republican Gov. Pete Ricketts were the proximate cause for her defection. For instance, Ricketts didn’t appreciate Ebke and other Republicans overriding his veto of their death-penalty repeal.
Ebke supported Rand Paul early in this year’s primary, and then became a Ted Cruz supporter. She says we won’t vote for Trump in November, and she agrees his candidacy — and Hillary Clinton’s — gives the LP an opportunity. “This is a good time to be a Libertarian.”
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Ebke also thinks the LP can and should embrace conservatives, including pro-lifers. “I consider myself pro-life,” Ebke told me by phone Wednesday, “and I would vote the pro-life side on virtually anything that came before me.”
How does outlawing abortion fit in with the libertarian notion of getting government out of our private lives? “The appropriate role of government is to defend life, liberty, and property,” Ebke says. The next question is “at what point is there a life?” If your answer is the scientific one — that a human is also human inside the womb — then the government ought to protect the lives of the unborn.
John Buckley is a Libertarian candidate for secretary of state in in West Virginia this year. He’s also pro-life. He argues that his abortion views fit well within his party’s views. Libertarians often rest their philosophy on the “non-aggression principle,” which Buckley summarizes this way: “You can do whatever you want to do, as long as you’re not violating the rights of another person.”
“So the question is: What’s another person?” Buckley tells me over lunch in D.C. Is a baby a person? “Libertarian philosophy itself doesn’t answer that question. I think biology and logic answer that question.”
Within the LP, Buckley says, “The majority position is to be pro-choice.” But, “the majority of the Libertarian Party acknowledges you can be a sound Libertarian politician and be pro-life.”
Buckley also argues that the LP needs to embrace social conservatives on other issues, and show them how libertarianism is in their interest. “Libertarian philosophy encompasses everyone’s rights,” Buckley says. Conservatives should see that under libertarian thought, “they’re free to do what they want to do.” That includes deciding which weddings to cater or whether to provide birth control in an employee health plan.
Buckley, who is gay, was proud to invite the head of the West Virginia Family Policy Center to host a table at the state’s LP convention. “We’re allies on a great many things,” such as religious liberty.
“Many folks are being oppressed, and we don’t like government oppression,” Buckley says. “Libertarians ought to reach out, and can increasingly find a better audience among religious conservatives.”
This involves reframing the LP as “socially tolerant,” rather than “socially liberal.” If you’re gay, you should be free to be gay. If you live some odd alternative lifestyle — say you’re an observant Catholic who refuses to use artificial contraception or participate directly in others obtaining it — you should be free to live your life that way, too.
“Libertarianism is more than lifestyle liberty,” Buckley says. “It’s individual liberty. As much as we should appeal to the sex workers, we ought to also appeal to religious conservatives, and say ‘you’re as welcome in the Libertarian Party.'”