Rand Paul’s dismal polling has once again been used to dismiss the popularity of libertarian ideas, with Michael Lind writing a critique for Politico. This follows Jerry Taylor’s similar piece from earlier this month (Taylor is a former Cato scholar who now heads up the newly created Niskanen Center).
Both articles contain interesting insights into the downfall of Rand Paul’s campaign, as well as the chances libertarians gaining electoral success. Lind is certainly correct in identifying how Rand managed to sabotage himself:
Paul alienated many of his noninterventionist fans and looked like just another politician instead of a principled libertarian when he came out against the Iran deal. His newfound hawkishness has not helped him.
This is absolutely crucial. By attempting to appeal to everyone at once—not just on foreign policy, but on issues like immigration and gay marriage as well—Rand Paul alienated his base and destroyed the brand that made him unique.
What Lind and Taylor get wrong is their assumption that Rand’s failure represents is indicative of libertarianism’s rise as a whole. No, we are not about to elect a principled libertarian as President. But ‘the libertarian moment’—a term coined by Reason’s Nick Gillespie and Matt Welch—was never about electoral politics. It described a change of mindset and material conditions, represented in the increasing acceptance of individualization, personalization, and choice.
Lind attempted to address this point by arguing that libertarian positions, like support for gay marriage and drug legalization, are standard issues many progressives support. This is clearly true. But how is the acceptance of once fringe libertarian issues not a victory for libertarians? The fact that people have not accepted libertarianism in totality—particularly some of it’s more radical positions—is beside the point.
Things are, in fact, only getting better. The sharing economy is rapidly changing the political and economic landscape, doing more for libertarianism than a single politician ever could. As Tom Mullen explained at the Huffington Post:
Technology and the marketplace are threatening to render centuries-old government institutions largely irrelevant. What meaning will trade regulations have when 3-D printers disrupt the manufacturing industry? What will the who-will-build-the-roads crowd say to libertarians when hovercraft technology reaches its full market potential? How will the Federal Reserve control the economy when Bitcoin or its successors reaches theirs?
The libertarian moment was never about Rand Paul.