Libertarian Priorities on Obama versus Romney

There are many self-described “libertarians” for whom opposing social welfare spending is a top priority. Recently I spoke with Peter Schiff, the popular radio host and failed Republican senate candidate from Connecticut. Schiff told me he would vote for Mitt Romney over Barack Obama if forced to choose, owing to Obama’s imposition of marginally-higher tax rates on wealthy Americans, ObamaCare, the Stimulus, and like initiatives.

Let’s leave aside Mitt Romney’s declaration that the healthcare plan he stridently championed in Massachusetts ought to serve as a national model, that the “individual mandate” was first advocated by the conservative Heritage Foundation, and that Romney’s prime adviser on crafting the MA plan also advised President Obama on crafting ObamaCare.

The more living question here, I think, is why some libertarians regard increased social welfare spending as the most important overall factor when weighing their vote. Let’s narrow this discussion to the relative merits of Obama and Romney, bracketing whether to vote Third Party, write someone in, or not vote at all. Either Obama or Romney will be elected in November, and it’s possible to state a preference for one or the other without endorsing the entirety of the preferred candidate’s platform.

Libertarians often claim that Obama is a socialist hell-bent on expanding the size of Government. Assume that’s true for the sake of argument — though, of course, the Left desperately wishes Obama was really a “socialist.” But whatever, let’s say he’s a socialist. How in God’s name is Romney any better on the size of Government? He vociferously opposes any cuts to the defense budget, and in fact wants to increase spending on money-draining Pentagon boondoggles. Like Obama, he supported TARP. Like Obama, he supports the National Defense Reauthorization Act (NDAA). Unlike Obama, he supports giving police more power to stop and question suspected illegal immigrants, as in Arizona. He has called for doubling the size of Guantanamo Bay. He is advised on foreign policy by quintessential neoconservative hawks such as Liz Cheney, John Bolton, Eliott Abrams, Dan Senor — and even Henry Kissinger, for Christ’s sake. Last I checked, starting a new war entails expanding the size of Government. Romney has also promised greater deference to his good friend Bibi Netanyahu, who is currently waving around bomb-cartoon placards and setting the stage for a preemptive attack on Iran.

Obama’s policy of drone strikes, escalating troops in Afghanistsan, intervening in Libya and so forth have been horrible, but nevertheless, he and Joe Biden have signaled no intention to start another full-scale ground-war. This is a key distinction, not to be taken lightly. Drone strikes are bad, but invading and occupying entire countries is much worse. What are we supposed to extrapolate from Romney’s decision to surround himself with the very same people who persuaded George W. Bush to topple Saddam Hussein on false pretenses?

Consider this exchange from the Vice Presidential debate:

RADDATZ: Well, let me ask you what’s worse, war in the Middle East, another war in the Middle East, or a nuclear-armed Iran?

RYAN: I’ll tell you what’s worse. I’ll tell you what’s worse.

RADDATZ: Quickly.

RYAN: A nuclear-armed Iran which triggers a nuclear arms race in the Middle East. This is the world’s largest sponsor of — of terrorism. They’ve dedicated themselves…


RYAN: … to wiping an entire country off the map. They call us the Great Satan. And if they get nuclear weapons, other people in the neighborhood will pursue their nuclear weapons, as well.

Got that? Paul Ryan apparently thinks a new war in the Middle East is preferable to a nuclear-armed Iran. He justifies his view by invoking propagandistic lies that rival anything spewed during the run-up to Iraq. This is simply deranged. Yes, Obama and Biden take an alarmingly bellicose position on Iran, but not anywhere near the level of Romney and Ryan.

Let’s assume Ryan was telling the truth (certainly not a given). Do so-called “libertarians” seriously believe that greater spending on food stamps and public transportation under Obama represents a more severe threat to overall liberty than another war in the Middle East under Romney? If so, they should give up the “libertarian” label and stop pretending. Ron Paul, the paradigmatic opponent of aggressive war, would be ashamed. There’s a reason he has repeatedly refused to endorse Romney.

So, what we’re talking about here is not really a sincere libertarian aversion to “Big Government,” because Romney has proclaimed his intention to expand the size of government — probably more than would Obama. This is about distorted priorities and some weird hangup about poor people getting too many handouts.

If you truly think welfare recipients and teachers’ unions are the great Evil in American society, then by all means — go ahead and vote for Romney. But if Mr. Big Government himself listens to his advisers and starts another war, your hands will not be clean.

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