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August 13, 2014 3:05 PM Tag-Teaming the “Libertarian Moment”

By Ed Kilgore

Let’s hope Robert Draper (a genuinely fine writer) has enjoyed the buzz over his “Libertarian Moment” article in the New York Times Magazine. The substance of the piece is not holding up real well.

I haven’t kept up with all the pounding it’s taken, but I’ve obviously focused on one prong of the “Libertarian Moment” argument, that the Republican Party is on the brink of having such a moment. It sure does not look apparent to me, even if you assume Rand Paul can beat the long odds against winning the 2016 presidential nomination. As I’ve argued here and elsewhere, what Draper and others seem to view as a “libertarian” tendency within the GOP is actually a “constitutional conservative” ideology that owes more to the Christian Right than to anything traditionally identified with that other “L-word.” So it’s not at all clear millennial voters will find much attractive in a Republican Party that hates government because it’s not controlled by reactionary culture-warriors.

But others, most notably Jonathan Chait, have focused on the other prong of the “libertarian moment” argument: that younger voters (specially millennials) are libertarian-leaning, giving a more resolutely anti-government GOP a way out of the Old White People demographic dead end it currently occupies.

Chait’s latest essay on that issue effectively undermines the claim, based as it is on the heavily discredited practice of taking protestations of non-affiliation with the two parties seriously, and on some dubious “advocacy polling” by Reason. As Chait notes:

The gold standard of generational-policy polling is the Pew Research Center, which conducts massive, detailed surveys with generational breakdowns. Pew’s findings are unambiguous. Voters under 30 have much, much more liberal views on economics than older voters do.

Now Draper has responded to a lot of this criticism by making it clear his own piece did not endorse the “libertarian moment” hypothesis (the headline did state it as a question, not an assertion, after all); he just gave exponents of the hypothesis a platform, and they took full advantage of it. That seems fair. But whoever is espousing it, it’s sure not looking as prescient as it did to some people who read the original piece.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.

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