2014: Libertarian Populism, or Same Old GOP Politics?


Having finally grown savvy to the perception that the GOP is the Party of Big Business, pundits (Ben Domenech and Tim Carney were early adopters) have offered a new strategy of appealing to the disaffected working/middle classes by showing them how government and crony capitalists rig the game against them – “libertarian populism.”

The Internet, as it is wont to do, set to work immediately dissecting and reblogging this concept along every dimension imaginable. The responses and critiques by Ross Douthat, Matt Yglesias, Will Wilkinson, Ramesh Ponnuru, Josh Barro, and James Poulos are all worth your time, although it’s Lori Sanders of the R Street Institute who caught my attention. Sanders identified a “female problem” with libertarian populism that’s right on the money – the way the narrative is being written is very much a “Man vs. The System” boys’ story:

“…it isn’t that women aren’t cognizant of the very real ways that institutions can be rigged against them. After all, we’re not so far from entrenched institutional paternalism that kept (and in some ways, still keeps) women’s voices from being heard. It’s just that framing the problem this way isn’t likely to connect with women.

If libertarian populism isn’t pitched in a way that appeals to women, then it’s unlikely to prove terribly helpful to Republicans, who desperately need to make inroads with the single largest demographic bloc that has turned its back on the party.”

Women went for Obama 55-43 in 2012. While married women voted for Romney (53-46), single women went an unbelievable 68-30 for Obama.

Here’s the crux of the issue: the GOP doesn’t have a mere “woman problem.” Rather, its voter base is largely hostile toward the claim that women deserve the full recognition of their human status and equal treatment. Todd Akin, Rush Limbaugh, trans-vaginal ultrasounds, or the very idea that a few nutjobs whose “conscience” is violated by something as inane as birth control were worth having a national debate over – these are all misogynistic impulses or appeals to the base that the party must make amends for. This kind of baggage doesn’t go away by simply pushing Akin off the stage and talking about crony capitalism or the fake “Real War on Women” instead.

I’m a degree-holding, urban-dwelling, unmarried woman. My demographic is growing insanely fast. I didn’t vote for either major party in 2008 or 2012, though if you’d put a gun to my head I would have voted Obama without hesitation. And no, it wasn’t because of that stupid “Life of Julia” website. Obama makes me want to throw my TV off the balcony; the GOP makes me want to join a women’s liberation militia.

Libertarian populism has some good policy proscriptions that can reduce the size and scope of government and bring measurable improvements to women’s lives. The problem is the messenger – the GOP. Ousting figures whom have been antagonistic toward single women, immigrants, minorities, and the LGBT community is a necessary but not sufficient first step, though I doubt it will happen any time soon. Inciting angry white men to become even angrier seems to be a losing proposition for future elections, but it’s what worked in the past, and it’s all the GOP knows how to do.