Liberty for ladies

Bonnie Kristian Fellow, Defense Priorities
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Mitt Romney won the Virginia primary on Super Tuesday with 60% of the vote to Ron Paul’s 40%. But according to exit polls, only 35% of Virginia women voted for Paul, compared to 45% of the state’s men.

These results have been echoed in other primary contests across the country, as well as in general elections: Women tend to vote for Democrats and non-libertarian Republicans over candidates who more consistently advocate limited government. On an anecdotal level, it’s not uncommon in the youth liberty movement where I work to joke about how an upcoming event will be awesome because there will be “at least one girl for every 30 guys!” (We do actually have a much better ratio than that, I promise.)

Some of this discrepancy is perhaps due to a problem of messaging to which libertarians are especially prone: In focusing on the rights and value inherent to the individual, it’s easy for us to forget that the average citizen thinks of herself (and is thought of by those around her) as a member of a number of social categories: female, Muslim, middle class, Hispanic. And, for better or worse, these perceptions influence both the way a person thinks she “should” think about politics and the way others expect her to think about politics. So whether we like it or not, if the liberty movement seeks to continue to grow in popularity, libertarians must learn to speak to the many distinct audiences who may not yet support our message.

With women, many say, this messaging problem is particularly tricky because apparently “women are natural socialists”:

We want everyone to share and everyone to get along. We are nurturers, and we expect the “haves” to take care of the “have-nots,” the strong to take care of the weak, and the brave to protect the others. … We want everyone to like us and we want everyone to like each other. Men, to put it simply, are more independent in thought and action.

Now, this “women are natural socialists” line is one I’ve heard a lot — and one which I don’t find particularly helpful in this or any political debate. After all, if the gentler sex just can’t help loving big government, why bother their pretty little heads arguing with them about it? No use fighting nature, and anyway, dinner will boil over while she tries to think!

But the modern liberty movement was actually founded by three (or four?) women, so theoretically libertarianism shouldn’t be too much of a stretch for women today. What’s good for the gander should be good for the goose, and a visit to any Ron Paul rally will make clear that the ideas of liberty appeal to a very wide range of people from all walks of life — all social categories, if you will.

For the sake of argument, however, let’s assume that all women really do just want everyone to be taken care of and get along with each other. Conveniently, the philosophy of liberty offers precisely those policies which would best produce these results. Let’s very briefly examine these in three general areas of public policy: foreign policy and (breaking domestic policy into its major components) social policy and economic policy.

Foreign policy

Libertarianism is most obviously distinguished from (modern) conservatism in its foreign policy. While conservatives — often better termed neoconservatives — tend to argue for ever bigger Pentagon budgets and one military engagement after another, libertarians advocate noninterventionism.

Noninterventionism is not isolationism. On the contrary, it dictates that we remain uninvolved but friendly (i.e. trading and talking, which the isolationist disallows) with other countries until aggression from another country is imminent, at which point we defend ourselves. Under a noninterventionist foreign policy, the reach of American militarism would be a lot less global. We would never have invaded Iraq or Libya, prolonged the invasion of Afghanistan for a grueling 10+ years, or assassinated an American citizen without a trial. We would exchange saber-rattling for much more affordable diplomacy and peace.

On the matter of fighting terrorism, libertarians highlight the concept of “blowback,” a term developed by the CIA “for the violent, unintended consequences” of, say, maintaining an unwanted military presence in the Middle East “that are suffered by the civil population of the aggressor government.” For a concrete example of blowback, read this report about how nine Afghan boys were mowed down by a NATO helicopter while collecting firewood. The American military issued an apology, of course, but apologies don’t always make up for mass murders:

“I don’t care about the apology,” Mohammed Bismil, the 20-year-old brother of two boys killed in the strike, said in a telephone interview. “The only option I have is to pick up a Kalashnikov, RPG [rocket-propelled grenade] or a suicide vest to fight.”

That helicopter attack directly created a brand new terrorist, and many of our little jaunts abroad do the same. Blowback explains that our overseas adventurism actually causes more war, making us less safe. Noninterventionism would make it easier for “the brave to protect the others,” an ostensible female goal.

So on the issue of foreign policy, we find that libertarianism is for 1) staying out of fights which aren’t our business and therefore killing fewer people and 2) killing fewer people so we have fewer terrorists and America is safer. Taking care of people and getting along with everyone? Check and check.

Social policy

On the social policy front, the libertarian position can be most simply put as allowing people to live their own lives as they please so long as they aren’t hurting anyone else.

Thomas Jefferson described the ideal of “a wise and frugal government which shall restrain men from injuring one another, which shall leave them otherwise free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement.” Or, more bluntly from Ron Paul: “I don’t want to run your life. We all have different values. I wouldn’t know how to do it, I don’t have the authority under the Constitution, and I don’t have the moral right.”

In practice, this means issues like marriage, children-rearing, and even what kind of milk one wants to drink would all be left to the individual to decide. Each of us is responsible to ourselves — or, if we wish to be, to our God, family, friends, and larger community. But regardless of the choices you make and the community you join, so long as you aren’t infringing on anyone else’s rights, no law should be able to dictate that you act otherwise. That goes for conservative, evangelical homeschoolers and hard-partying Brooklynites alike.

Like the libertarian foreign policy, though on a smaller scale, this “live and let live” style of policy seems like a good way for “everyone to like us [and] each other” — or at least to keep those we don’t like from legislating against us and vice versa.

Economic policy

Libertarians are known for nothing if not fiscal responsibility and a love of sound money. Yes, some of that fiscal responsibility would include gradually and humanely cutting social welfare programs. Does this go against the stereotypical female desire for everyone to be taken care of? Far to the contrary!

In a libertarian, welfare state-free society, private charities would work much like they do now, only on a larger scale. Libertarianism isn’t about putting profits over people, and it’s not about cutting government spending simply for the sake of cutting it. As Calvin Coolidge put it, “Economy is idealism in its most practical form.” Even in our present conditions, private charities produce more results for the amount of money put into them than do government agencies in the same line of work. Private charities are both more efficient and more effective than government agencies for a variety of reasons — in other words, given the same amount of money, they take care of more people, and they do it better. Big government is no friend to the poor.

A libertarian monetary policy would also benefit the poor — along with everyone else. As economist and New York Times best-selling author Dr. Thomas Woods has explained, government interference in the economy caused the 2008 financial collapse, and D.C.’s continued interference is like nothing so much as repeatedly kicking a (wo)man while (s)he’s down. Unemployment continues to hover at 10% (or higher, depending on how you measure it), but the Fed continues to increase inflation rates (hello, gas prices!), a practice which hurts “middle-class and low-income Americans the most. Simply put, printing money to pay for federal spending dilutes the value of the dollar, which causes higher prices for goods and services.”

In short, though it may not be immediately evident, libertarian economic policy is one of concern for the needy, and it is based on the fact that government is often the biggest enemy of the disadvantaged, impeding charities in their work while sucking away the value of the few bills left in our pockets.

All that is to say: If women really do require a different set of reasons than the “average” voter (presumably “average” actually means “male”?) to be libertarians, and if the common stereotypes I’ve mentioned here are true, then perhaps women are better suited than men to be libertarians. But I’d much rather argue that liberty is for everyone, and that the liberty philosophy is the only force in American politics today with a real plan for peace, freedom, and prosperity — for an America where everyone is taken care of and gets along fine.

Bonnie Kristian is the director of communications for Young Americans for Liberty.