I’d just note, as I have before, that no part of America is actually “libertarian.” Bad ideas like the minimum wage are going to pass pretty much anywhere you put them on the ballot. But, relatively speaking, this is a region that wants low spending and little regulation of people’s private lives. It’s a broad definition, to be sure, but I’m convinced it’s closer to libertarian than liberal. ~Ryan Sager

Er, okay, and I’m convinced that it isn’t.  How’s that for an argument?  Perhaps if libertarians and their champions would present more of an argument for why “low spending and little regulation of people’s private lives” constitutes a more libertarian (or dare we say “libertarian-leaning”?) view than it does other possible alternatives, we could debate the merits of that argument.  If we’re simply listing things that are only debatably libertarian and then declaring, “I prefer to call this the ‘more libertarian’ position,” we might as well go home and have a drink.

Sager’s column doesn’t do much better.  Here he cites evidence that the Interior West is becoming more “purple” in a centrist Democrat way (i.e., socially liberal, fiscally conservative):

Data from the Pew Research Center show that when it comes to issues of religion and morality, the Interior West is much closer to the socially liberal Northeast and the Pacific Coast than it is to the South. At the same time, however, folks in the Interior West are fairly conservative on fiscal matters.

This means that the region is going the direction of the politics of the DLC, the Concord Coalition and Dick Lamm (former Democratic governor of Colorado, one-time Reform Party VP nominee in ‘96).  If you want to call DLC centrism and old Reform Party-type politics “more libertarian than liberal,” knock yourself out, but you will not be describing anything that most can recognise as a libertarian politics. 

Sager’s definition of “more libertarian than liberal” fits nicely with the vague definition Boaz and Kirby used to determine the size of a “libertarian” voting bloc.  In their estimation, to be socially liberal and fiscally conservative effectively makes you a libertarian.  Except that everyone and his brother knows that it doesn’t make you any such thing–it typically makes you a moderate Republican, who has no strong objection to most of what the government does (so long as it does it “efficiently” and within budget) and who may not even have a problem with, say, the government providing funding for abortion.  Like Mitt Romney of old, they would have balanced budgets and no “imposing” of moral beliefs on others–if that’s all it takes to be functionally libertarian, it doesn’t mean very much.  No outrageous deficit spending, and no “unnecessary” tax cuts–these are the golden rules of the moderate Republican/fiscal conservative.  (With a slight tweak, that definition could even work just as easily for some neoconservatives, whose incandescent moral outrage about Iran does not necessarily extend to any social issues here at home.) 

In any case, Sager’s thesis that religiosity and big spending have driven away some voters who had supported the Republicans in the past but who have now switched sides may be partly correct.  These things probably did alienate some voters in the last six years.  Almost certainly, excessive spending and the war had far more impact on the voters who bolted than did superficial God-talk that resulted in literally no policy proposals of any significance in the last four years.  It is Sager’s hits on the pernicious influence of religious conservatives on the party’s fortunes where he is least convincing, but that is not part of this column. 

The main problem is that the people who are switching sides aren’t “libertarians” in the Interior West, but are these moderates, centrists, and independents–David Brooks’ suburban managers–who recoil at the sight of Republican incompetence and budget imbalances mixed with what they, the suburban managers, may regard as demagogic intolerance.  Even among Boaz and Kirby’s libertarian-leaning voters, the GOP’s share of their vote stabilised between 2004 and 2006 after a notable drop-off between 2002 and 2004.  That means, as I have tried to argue before, that those whom Boaz and Kirby defined as libertarians stopped fleeing from the GOP during their two worst years of war, religious enthusiasm (think Schiavo), reckless spending and corruption revelations.  The things that were supposed to be driving away libertarians got worse in those two years, and yet these libertarians remained in essentially the same numbers as they had in 2004, which either means that they aren’t terribly libertarian or the GOP’s hemorrhaging of support is coming from an entirely different part of the coalition.  Neither is promising for claims of the importance of the libertarian vote or the importance of libertarians to the GOP.  Neither is exactly a ringing endorsement for the theory that the GOP is losing ground in the West because of neglect of libertarian voters.

As far as New Mexico goes, I would simply say, for the umpteenth time, that Richardson’s two victories do not contribute to evidence for a regional trend away from the GOP.  His competition was anemic in both races (he was all but unopposed this last time for most of 2006, and faced an extremely weak challenge for the last few months of the election), he had enormous advantages in name recognition and popularity to start with and he has a natural majority Democratic vote in New Mexico that he can rely on.  The last point distinguishes our marginally ”red” state from everything around it.