In Fusionism Lies Folly: The Tea Party Killed It (Again)

The alliance between conservatives and libertarians, defined as “fusionism” by Frank S. Meyer, gets praised or excoriated every six months (or whenever Rand Paul appears before a camera). Instead of repeating the brilliant writings of Meyer (or some recent entries), I propose a pseudo-empirical review since 2010 and the rise of the Tea Party.

Conservatives rationalize fusionism on a historical cooperation and the specter of liberals holding elected office, but the practical result when conservatives and libertarians unite tends to empower conservatives to legislate social issues where they lack consensus with libertarians while ignoring philosophical overlap. Thus, instead of protecting some civil liberties and encouraging a freer market, the culture war captivates their attention, to the detriment of anyone who departs from a Mitt Romney lifestyle. And so it has been since the origin of fusionism.  The Tea Party provides another data point.

Abortion: Abortion divides libertarians, but it’s a great example because, with libertarians divided, it’s an issue outside the realm of fusionism and a flurry of activity followed the 2010 midterm elections from Republican-controlled statehouses. Emily Bazelon wrote a great overview  on abortion legislation in Arizona, Arkansas, North Carolina, North Dakota, and Texas, among others. The 2010 elections “invigorated abortion opponents and gave them the chance to try new bills,” which is great for the GOP base, but outside the priorities of most libertarians.

Voter ID Laws: Were voter fraud a widespread problem, requiring proof of identity to vote would be a rational and prudent response to ensure free and fair elections (whatever worth that holds). Voter fraud, however, remains laughably low. Regardless, Republicans introduced bills in 34 states during 2011 to enact or strengthen voter ID laws. The laws disproportionately affect minorities and the poor, traditionally Democratic voting blocs. Such enthusiastic action reflects a mob mentality to correct an imaginary problem while creating unnecessary legal barriers.

Gay Marriage: While some radical libertarians oppose gay marriage in virtue of their belief that the state has no business in defining marriage, finding consensus between libertarians and conservatives on this issue is absurd.* Yet, again, conservatives pursue this issue with a Biblical self-righteousness. They live up to their duty of standing athwart history yelling “Stop,” which is their prerogative, but their fervor overwhelms any political capital to criticize the nanny state or shrug off government economic intervention.

Government Health Care: The Affordable Care Act provoked a reactionary agitation from the GOP, which could have been useful, but they failed to persuade the American electorate that they had an alternative vision for health-care reform (though some conservatives proposed persuasive alternatives). Since the Supreme Court ruling last summer, however, some conservatives have fallen into a fatalistic approach to efforts such as Medicaid expansion. Ohio Governor John Kasich has attempted to enact the expansion in Ohio, calling it “inevitable.”

While Republican-controlled statehouses have made some progress on balancing budgets (Ohio) or expanding charter schools (North Carolina), state spending continues to increase, police abuse and the expansion of the surveillance state continue unabated, and little has been done to end the drug war. A fusionist approach carries a few advantages on the state level (with a hefty cost), but it’s irrelevant on the federal level. Did Rand Paul’s filibuster do anything except remind us that the majority of Americans disregard the protection of civil liberties when they’re unaffected? The Tea Party effect reduced the power of moderate voices within the GOP, which reinforced the base, but alienated conservatives who prefer national leaders who don’t moonlight as preachers. Tea Party activists flew Gadsden flags as they opposed gay marriage, restricted birth control, promoted a militaristic foreign policy, and disregarded civil liberties and privacy protections, and remained embarrassingly ignorant of the irony.

If fusionism reduces tax rates, that seems a pittance compared to the conservative fixation on social issues and disregard of civil liberties. Sure, work with conservatives when the moment arises, but don’t vote for the people who treat a “partner” as a token.

*I don’t use “radical” in a derogatory manner, though they’re position is a rejection of political reality and equality before the law resulting from ideological fealty to opposing any government action.