For politically oriented libertarians, politics is the art of picking the most libertarian candidate who has a chance of winning.
Bill Richardson has no chance of winning, and the other Democratic hopefuls offer nothing to supporters of limited government. On the Republican side, we can safely skip the Ron Paul debate -- he is not going to be the next president of the United States. John McCain sometimes blunders into support of limited government, but his usual reaction to his personal whim of the day is that government should do something about it. And, his honorable service to his country notwithstanding, his unstable personality and temper make him uniquely unqualified for the presidency.
That leaves three electable candidates who can offer some legitimate claim to libertarian sympathies -- Mitt Romney, Rudy Giuliani, and Fred Thompson. Romney is an easy choice.
Governor Romney's tax policy should make a libertarian's mouth water. It begins with the no-brainers -- make the Bush tax cuts permanent, eliminate the estate tax, and nix any increase in social security taxes. In addition, Romney has proposed substantial reductions in the corporate tax rate, where the United States rate is now one of the highest among the Western democracies, and in individual income tax rates, across the board. He has proposed eliminating all taxes on dividends and interest for those earning less than $200,000. One of Governor Romney's most important yet overlooked proposals is to make all spending on health care premiums and medical expenses tax deductible, an initiative that will do much to rationalize health care markets by putting individual coverage on the same plane as employer-provided health plans.
Romney is a talented businessman with an understanding of how start-up enterprises and a dynamic, growth oriented economy work. He understands how Sarbanes-Oxley is costing the U.S. is predominant place in world capital markets, and will take an ax to the Washington regulatory machine. As the Club for Growth says, Governor Romney has “an intuitive appreciation for free markets.” It's in his blood.
Romney is a strong supporter of free trade, as befits his background helping companies compete in the global economy. On immigration, Romney has exactly the right position -- opposition to illegal immigration (which libertarians should oppose if only because it undercuts support for legal immigration) while acting, “to encourage legal immigration and streamline the system.”
At one time, Romney, Rudy and Thompson all supported the egregious McCain-Feingold campaign finance bill. Rudy and Fred have since trimmed their sails, but only Romney has forthrightly admitted that his prior support was in error, and come out four-square in favor of the law's repeal.
Romney supports school choice and home schooling. And Mitt will appoint good judges.
Of course, it is one thing to have an agenda, and another to deliver. Both Romney and Rudy have shown an impressive ability to make headway on tax and spending issues in the face of overwhelmingly liberal legislatures and political cultures deeply attached to high levels of regulation and taxation. Despite a generally admirable voting record, Senator Thompson lacks the executive experience of Governor Romney and Mayor Giuliani, and it is difficult to name any issue, during his eight years in the Senate, on which he took the lead in promoting smaller government. The one bill which he played a critical role in passing was the odious McCain-Feingold legislation.
On its 2006 Governors Fiscal Policy Report Card, the Cato Institute rated Romney 12th overall and 7th of 26 Republicans. In 2004, Cato put Romney 11th overall, and 8th among Republicans. The Club for Growth has praised his “support for broad based tax cuts in liberal Massachusetts.” It is true that in addition to cutting spending in order to balance the budget deficit he inherited, Governor Romney supported a variety of fee hikes and the closing of “loopholes” in the tax code. Given the overwhelming Democratic majorities in the state legislature (137-23 in the House, 33-7 in the Senate), it is not realistic to think that the budget could have been balanced by spending cuts alone. Politics is the art of the possible --as it is, many of Governor Romney's spending vetoes were overridden by the legislature. In Washington, Romney will not face Democratic legislative majorities of such magnitude. Meanwhile, Governor Romney was victorious in what the Club for Growth calls a “bloody fight” with the legislature over the state capital gains tax, winning a rebate of $275 million for state taxpayers. He proposed reductions in the state income tax. During his tenure, state spending rose by an average of just 2.22% per year, versus annualized inflation and population growth of 3.0%. By comparison, under Mayor Giuliani spending in New York City rose at an average rate of 2.84%, versus population growth and inflation of 2.9%. Over a four year presidency, those differences would add up to nearly $80 billion in reduced government spending.
As Governor, Romney actually vetoed an increase in the state's minimum wage. He also successfully vetoed a legislative effort to put a moratorium on the opening of charter schools.
Governor Romney is a man who knows how to get things done, from his success in business, to turning around the Salt Lake Olympic Games, to running a remarkable campaign for President that most observers thought was totally improbable just two years ago. Halting and reversing the growth of government requires more than just the right views -- it requires the right abilities. Governor Romney has those abilities.
In foreign policy, libertarians were among the staunchest foes of communism during the Cold War. We should be equally in the forefront in the battle against the current threat to Western liberal values, Islamic extremism. The Cold war lasted over 40 years, and although it sometimes involved significant military action (most notably in Korea and Vietnam for the U.S., and in Afghanistan for the USSR), the principle antagonists avoided direct conflict on the battlefield. It was a series of small proxy wars, intelligence battles, and economic and diplomatic pressure. The United States must begin to think of the fight with Islamic extremism in similar terms -- as a long commitment in which conventional armies are of limited use. Romney is a candidate who is serious about the threats presented: resolute, but not bellicose; prepared to use force when necessary, but mindful of the limits of conventional warfare; aware of the need to win hearts and minds but not naïve about the nature of our enemies. Trade, commerce, and appropriate restraint will mark a Romney foreign policy.
Libertarians must understand that the Democratic nominee is going to be committed to a substantial growth in government, will probably be working with an even more statist Democratic Congress, and will appoint judges who see the Constitution's restraints on government power as obstacles to overcome rather than limits to heed. Governor Romney has demonstrated the ability to plan and run a first rate campaign, and to reassemble the elements of the Reagan coalition (including its non-libertarian elements) that resulted in the most libertarian Presidency of the last 80 years. He has a proven record of executive experience that Senator Thompson cannot match. While Governor Romney and Mayor Giuliani offer similar economic prescriptions and have each demonstrated ability to see them through In hostile circumstances, the Governor's opposition to McCain-Feingold, support for free trade (the Mayor has opposed NAFTA), and more restrained attitude toward the use of U.S. power abroad make him the preferred choice. His pro-growth tax proposals, proven record of controlling and even rolling back government spending and regulation, support for basic individual freedoms such as home schooling and the right to bear arms, and ultimately his ability to defeat the whichever unrepentant statist wins the Democratic nomination, make him the place where libertarians should be in 2008.
Related Posts (on one page):
- Prof. Rick Garnett on Why He Supports Fred Thompson for President:
- Prof. Brad Smith on Why He Supports Mitt Romney for President:
- Prof. David Beito and Scott Horton on Why They Support Ron Paul for President:
- Prof. John McGinnis on Why He Supports Rudy Giuliani for President:
- Libertarianish Law Professors on Why They Support Their Presidential Candidates: