Op/Ed on the Polarization along Party Lines

conjur

No Lifer
Jun 7, 2001
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http://www.nytimes.com/2004/06/05/opinion/05BROO.html

Over the next few months, I hope to write a fair bit about the dominant feature of our political life: polarization. I hope to figure out how deeply split the nation is, and what exactly it is we are fighting about ? questions that leave me, at present, confused.

Today's topic is what it means to be a partisan, because partisanship is the building block of polarization.

In a perfectly rational world, citizens would figure out which parties best represent their interests and their values, and they would provisionally attach themselves to those parties. If their situations changed or their interests changed, then their party affiliations would change.

But that is not how things work in real life. As Donald Green, Bradley Palmquist and Eric Schickler argue in their book, "Partisan Hearts and Minds," most people either inherit their party affiliations from their parents, or they form an attachment to one party or another early in adulthood. Few people switch parties once they hit middle age. Even major historic events like the world wars and the Watergate scandal do not cause large numbers of people to switch.

Moreover, Green, Palmquist and Schickler continue, people do not choose parties by comparing platforms and then figuring out where the nation's interests lie. Drawing on a vast range of data, these political scientists argue that party attachment is more like attachment to a religious denomination or a social club. People have stereotypes in their heads about what Democrats are like and what Republicans are like, and they gravitate toward the party made up of people like themselves.

Once they have formed an affiliation, people bend their philosophies and their perceptions of reality so they become more and more aligned with members of their political tribe.

Paul Goren of Arizona State University has used survey data to track the same voters over time. Under the classic model, you'd expect to find that people who valued equal opportunity would become Democrats and that people who valued limited government would become Republicans.

In fact, you're more likely to find that people become Democrats first, then place increasing value on equal opportunity, or they become Republicans first, then place increasing value on limited government. Party affiliation often shapes values, not the other way around.

Party affiliation even shapes people's perceptions of reality. In 1960, Angus Campbell and others published a classic text, "The American Voter," in which they argued that partisanship serves as a filter. A partisan filters out facts that are inconsistent with the party's approved worldview and exaggerates facts that confirm it.

That observation has been criticized by some political scientists, who see voters as reasonably rational. But many political scientists are coming back to Campbell's conclusion: people's perceptions are blatantly biased by partisanship.

For example, the Princeton political scientist Larry Bartels has pointed to survey data collected after the Reagan and Clinton presidencies. In 1988, voters were asked if they thought the nation's inflation rate had fallen during the Reagan presidency.

In fact, it did. The inflation rate fell from 13.5 percent to 4.1 percent. But only 8 percent of strong Democrats said the rate had fallen. Fifty percent of partisan Democrats believed that inflation had risen under Reagan. Strong Republicans had a much sunnier and more accurate impression of economic trends. Forty-seven percent said inflation had declined.

Then, at the end of the Clinton presidency, voters were asked similar questions about how the country had fared in the previous eight years. This time, it was Republicans who were inaccurate and negative. Democrats were much more positive. Bartels concludes that partisan loyalties have a pervasive influence on how people see the world. They reinforce and exaggerate differences of opinion between Republicans and Democrats.

The overall impression one gets from these political scientists is that politics is a tribal business. Americans congregate into rival political communities, then embrace one-sided attitudes and perceptions. That suggests that political polarization is the result of deep and self-reinforcing psychological and social forces.

This theory doesn't explain how the country moves through cycles of greater and lesser polarization. Still, I have to say, depressingly, this picture of tribal and subrational partisanship does accord with the reality we see around us every day.

This just shows that people will believe what they want to believe, no matter the facts placed in front of them.
 

zephyrprime

Diamond Member
Feb 18, 2001
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They're right on the mark when they talk about tribalism. That ancient instint is the key to understanding partisianship in my opinion. I noticed long abo that some people are very irrational when defending their political views.
 

Dissipate

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Jan 17, 2004
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I started off as a Republican but I found many inconsistencies in the Republican party's actions. For instance many Republicans appear to be against welfare, but are all for it when it is in the form of drug benefits and social security. For this reason I switched to Libertarian, and I have yet to find any logical inconsistencies in the LP platform. BTW, the idea that the Republican party is for smaller government is a myth. Reagan was probably the last Republican president who truly sought to get the government off the backs of the people.
 

myusername

Diamond Member
Jun 8, 2003
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What's also interesting is that 67% of strong Democrats found this study to be interesting and worthy of further analysis, whereas 64% of strong Republicans wrote it off as "a Liberal waste of the taxpayers money on fraudulent science".
 

conjur

No Lifer
Jun 7, 2001
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Originally posted by: Dissipate
I started off as a Republican but I found many inconsistencies in the Republican party's actions. For instance many Republicans appear to be against welfare, but are all for it when it is in the form of drug benefits and social security. For this reason I switched to Libertarian, and I have yet to find any logical inconsistencies in the LP platform. BTW, the idea that the Republican party is for smaller government is a myth. Reagan was probably the last Republican president who truly sought to get the government off the backs of the people.

Perhaps it's time for me to start looking at more detail at the Libertarian Party. If Bush and the neocons controlling him are what I can look forward to being offered by the Republican Party in the future, perhaps it's time to start looking elsewhere.
 

JellyBaby

Diamond Member
Apr 21, 2000
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I have come to view political party alignment as akin to being shackled, not physically but intellectually. I feel the two big parties (Ds and Rs) tend to encourage polarization and conflict, value winning far above improving the human condition and have too many self-serving agendas.

So why do so many flock to these groups for all the wrong reasons? To tell them how to think and behave? For security? As a result of simple ego's need to be on the "winning side"?

How do so many here ignore the insightful posts and come out of the woodwork only when their conditioned filter system detects the word "democrat" or "republican", in which case the auto-defense/auto-slander programming comes to the forefront?
 

Kappo

Platinum Member
Aug 18, 2000
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Originally posted by: Dissipate
I started off as a Republican but I found many inconsistencies in the Republican party's actions. For instance many Republicans appear to be against welfare, but are all for it when it is in the form of drug benefits and social security. For this reason I switched to Libertarian, and I have yet to find any logical inconsistencies in the LP platform. BTW, the idea that the Republican party is for smaller government is a myth. Reagan was probably the last Republican president who truly sought to get the government off the backs of the people.

I agree almost 100% with this. The only problem is that the LP isnt as big as the dem or rep parties, and you know as things get bigger they get messier and values do not always coincide as often.

Although in GA Herman Kain (cane?) has impressed me with his actions being a conservative rep by continually seeking to make a smaller government not only in what he says, but in what he does.

For the people that probably think I am a conservative republican, I am actually LP with conservative leanings ;)

I find inconsistancies almost everywhere I look, so I dont expect anything better from ANYone anymore.
 

Moonbeam

Elite Member
Nov 24, 1999
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This is a profoundly interesting subject because it is a symptom of something much deeper. It is a subset of our conditioning as to how we see the world. Unfortunately, it is not possible for people to understand the nature of partisanship directly because to do so requires real self knowledge. But to know who you really are requires that the knower die because the one who seeks to know is a liar. The pursuit of truth is really the flight from it. The ego is not the true self and it's the ego that's partisan. The ego cannot intentionally die. It happens only by accident. Religious training can weaken the attachment to the ego and that can help as can real desperation as in surrender to fate or surrender to God's will, however you may wish to phrase it.

So in order to understand partisanship, one has to have faced the pain that partisanship is intended to mask. We all feel like the worst person in the world. Because of that we can have no real center in ourself. The ego substitutes for that lack and becomes our center. But the ego is just the myriad attachments we make, the surrogate identifications we make with external acclaim in order to acquire a phony form of self respect. By becoming a democrat or a republican the simple minded ego becomes something great. And once we've gone from feeling worthless to substituting external worth, anything that attacks our substitute source of worth attacks us. This is the source of partisan insanity. We are insane. The only answer is self understanding and the intention not to take ones attachments seriously. We are all fools and we can all have a good laugh. You are and always were absolutely OK. Love for your real self is OK, just don't fall for your ego.
 

JellyBaby

Diamond Member
Apr 21, 2000
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Knowing I have to die in order to fully understand this is a real pisser, Beamer, but I'm going to continue to try just in case the cosmic dice may roll in my favor someday... :)
 

Moonbeam

Elite Member
Nov 24, 1999
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Originally posted by: JellyBaby
Knowing I have to die in order to fully understand this is a real pisser, Beamer, but I'm going to continue to try just in case the cosmic dice may roll in my favor someday... :)

That's the dying before your death kind of dying we're talking about, Jelly. :D Ego death! Sometimes it's called modesty and is the reason Jesus said the meek shall inherit the earth. Without a self there's no boundry between you and the universe, right? :D Oh my Beloved, wherever I look it appears to be Thou.
 

heartsurgeon

Diamond Member
Aug 18, 2001
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This just shows that people will believe what they want to believe, no matter the facts placed in front of them

i have stated this many times in my posts.

i also firmly believe that people vote for what they believe is in their own best interest (to do otherwise would make no sense).

another point i have made before i that the two political parties have "honed" their message and their issues down to a point where the electorate is split 50/50 democrat/republican based solely on economic factors.

the upper 50% of income earners pay nearly all federal income tax (>96%)
the lower 50% of income earners pay nearly no federal income tax.(<4%)

a logical association can be made that those who pay a significant amount in Fed Inc.Tax...want to pay less. Further, those who pay very little, wish to receive the same or more Federal benefits. Self-interest at work.

while this clearly doesn't represent the only polarizing factor in politics today....money is after clearly a significant part of it. Taxes are a critical political issue. Issues like abortion, and "gay" rights are just not mainstrean issues that shift a lot of votes around.
 

Moonbeam

Elite Member
Nov 24, 1999
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Originally posted by: heartsurgeon
This just shows that people will believe what they want to believe, no matter the facts placed in front of them

i have stated this many times in my posts.

i also firmly believe that people vote for what they believe is in their own best interest (to do otherwise would make no sense).

another point i have made before i that the two political parties have "honed" their message and their issues down to a point where the electorate is split 50/50 democrat/republican based solely on economic factors.

the upper 50% of income earners pay nearly all federal income tax (>96%)
the lower 50% of income earners pay nearly no federal income tax.(<4%)

a logical association can be made that those who pay a significant amount in Fed Inc.Tax...want to pay less. Further, those who pay very little, wish to receive the same or more Federal benefits. Self-interest at work.

while this clearly doesn't represent the only polarizing factor in politics today....money is after clearly a significant part of it. Taxes are a critical political issue. Issues like abortion, and "gay" rights are just not mainstrean issues that shift a lot of votes around.

You see the would through your own lenses. I never vote for what I believe is in my own best interest in the way you mean it. I vote for what I feel benefits those who could use some benefits since I got everything I need. But I do that, of course, because I believe that benefit means something kind of invisible to some, that I'm best off if others are too. He who is rich in spirit is rich, and he who is poor in spirit is poor even with vast wealth. "In the end the love you take is equal to the love you make." The heart of the lover has wings.
 

chess9

Elite member
Apr 15, 2000
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Two nice links, Conjur. :)

I'd like to think people are a bit more complex than your first author suggests. While his premise may apply to large numbers of people what about people who aren't tribal? Some people live very solitary lives, unencumbered by friendships, church, kids, or family. Also, what about seminal thinkers, including most intellectuals? What about the tribe of people who don't care about politics at all? That's a big number. (notice the difference in the number of people who post here vs. OT)

The Libertarians have some interesting ideas, but they are not practical in my view. Republicans are, for the most part, wrapped up in too much narrow religious dogma to take the Libertarians seriously, and Democrats are much more willing (excepting this Prez) than Republicans to expand government and to spend money like "drunken sailors".

For myself, I've tried to look at character as a benchmark for voting, but it has been an utter and complete waste of time. Everyone I've voted for has proven to be human!

Perhaps the fault lies in ourselves. Do we expect too much from our politicians, or too little, or both?

-Robert
 

sandorski

No Lifer
Oct 10, 1999
70,101
5,640
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The article is spot on. As for reasons it might be this way:

1) People don't have time(or they're too busy), so they pick a side and stick with it. Work demands, Family demands, all forms of Entertainment(which take up most of our time), Commutes, Social Contacts, and other Appointments all take up an Individuals time making examination near impossible.

2) Modern Society is taught from birth to Trust. Not that Trust is a bad thing, it's just that few ever test something to know whether it is Trustworthy. Try critically watching Commercials and see how few Products are rarely Proven or even explained, look underneath what is actually said and See how they appeal not to Logic or Reason, but on a Subconscious Emotional level. We are all inundated with Propoganda from Birth that create Impressions and Associations that make no Logical or Reasonable sense. Can we even Trust ourselves to Judge what is Trustworthy?

3) Lack of Education. Critical Thinking and Independent Thought is not emphasized enough creating a Lazy Society that can't be bothered to Logically think through Issues, if we even have any(point #1).
 

conjur

No Lifer
Jun 7, 2001
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Originally posted by: chess9
Two nice links, Conjur. :)

I'd like to think people are a bit more complex than your first author suggests. While his premise may apply to large numbers of people what about people who aren't tribal? Some people live very solitary lives, unencumbered by friendships, church, kids, or family. Also, what about seminal thinkers, including most intellectuals? What about the tribe of people who don't care about politics at all? That's a big number. (notice the difference in the number of people who post here vs. OT)

Well, think about the "mob mentality" and the "unwashed masses". Catch-all phrases, for sure, but there is some truth in that. Most people feel comfortable fitting in with a group. Those who are more solitary are fewer in number.
 

JellyBaby

Diamond Member
Apr 21, 2000
9,159
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For myself, I've tried to look at character as a benchmark for voting, but it has been an utter and complete waste of time. Everyone I've voted for has proven to be human!
I was considering that very approach but with a twist: to weigh those candidates with the weakest ego higher than those who ooze it from every orafice. The trouble is, they all desire the power of the presidency so by definition they are likely brimming with ego.

Ah, sweet perfection is so elusive and like you said everyone makes mistakes. I guess that's why we also go by record, historical performance, time of service, accreditation and the like. But now Moonbeam introduces the Banana Benchmark and it has really chimped me out:
You see the would through your own lenses. I never vote for what I believe is in my own best interest in the way you mean it. I vote for what I feel benefits those who could use some benefits since I got everything I need. But I do that, of course, because I believe that benefit means something kind of invisible to some, that I'm best off if others are too. He who is rich in spirit is rich, and he who is poor in spirit is poor even with vast wealth. "In the end the love you take is equal to the love you make." The heart of the lover has wings.
Let loose the bananas!
 

conjur

No Lifer
Jun 7, 2001
58,686
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A Nation Divided? Who Says?

WASHINGTON ? If you've been following the election coverage, you know how angry you're supposed to be. This has been called the Armageddon election in the 50-50 nation, a civil war between the Blue and the Red states, a clash between churchgoers and secularists hopelessly separated by a values chasm and a culture gap.

But do Americans really despise the beliefs of half of their fellow citizens? Have Americans really changed so much since the day when a candidate with Ronald Reagan's soothing message could carry 49 of 50 states?

To some scholars, the answer is no. They say that our basic differences have actually been shrinking over the past two decades, and that the polarized nation is largely a myth created by people inside the Beltway talking to each another or, more precisely, shouting at each other.

These academics say it's not the voters but the political elite of both parties who have become more narrow-minded and polarized. As Norma Desmond might put it: We're still big. It's the parties that got smaller.

Just because a state votes red or blue in a presidential election doesn't mean that its voters are fixed permanently on one side of a political divide or culture gap. The six bluest states in 2000, the ones where George W. Bush fared worst - Rhode Island, Massachusetts, New York, Hawaii, Connecticut and Maryland - all have Republican governors. Even California went red last year when Arnold Schwarzenegger, a moderate Republican, became governor.

Most voters are still centrists willing to consider a candidate from either party, but they rarely get the chance: It's become difficult for a centrist to be nominated for president or to Congress or the state legislature, said Morris P. Fiorina, a political scientist at Stanford and senior fellow at the Hoover Institution.

"If the two presidential candidates this year were John McCain and Joe Lieberman, you'd see a lot more crossover and less polarization," said Professor Fiorina, mentioning the moderate Republican and Democratic senators. He is the co-author, along with Samuel J. Abrams of Harvard and Jeremy C. Pope of Stanford, of the forthcoming book, "Culture War? The Myth of a Polarized America."

"The bulk of the American citizenry is somewhat in the position of the unfortunate citizens of some third-world countries who try to stay out of the cross-fire while Maoist guerrillas and right-wing death squads shoot at each other," the book concludes. "Reports of a culture war are mostly wishful thinking and useful fund-raising strategies on the part of culture-war guerrillas, abetted by a media driven by the need to make the dull and everyday appear exciting and unprecedented."

The book presents evidence that voters in red and blue America are not far apart. Majorities in both places support stricter gun control as well as the death penalty; they strongly oppose giving blacks preference in hiring while also wanting the government to guarantee that blacks are treated fairly by employers. They're against outlawing abortion completely or allowing it under any circumstances, and their opinions on abortion have been fairly stable for three decades. Virtually identical majorities of Blues and Reds don't want a single party controlling the White House and Congress.

Further evidence of a truce comes from Paul DiMaggio, a sociologist at Princeton, and colleagues who have studied attitudes toward a wide range of issues like race, crime, the role of women and the welfare state. They looked at various demographic divisions - by race, age, sex, education, religious denomination, region - and found that gaps among groups have been constant or shrinking for the past three decades.

"The two big surprises in our research," Professor DiMaggio said, "were the increasing agreement between churchgoing evangelicals and mainline Protestants, even on abortion, and the lack of increasing polarization between African-Americans and whites. Evangelicals have become less doctrinaire and more liberal on issues like gender roles. African-Americans are showing more diversity in straying from the liberal line on issues like government programs that assist minorities."

Alan Wolfe, a political scientist at Boston College, reached similar conclusions in his 1998 book, "One Nation, After All," which called the culture war largely a product of intellectuals.

"Compared to earlier periods - the Civil War, the 1930's, the 1960's - our disagreements now are not that deep," Professor Wolfe said last week. "Indeed, it is only because we agree so much on so many things that we can allow ourselves the luxury of thinking we are having a culture war. When one of society's deepest divisions is over stem cells, that society is pretty unified."

In his book, Professor Wolfe called gay rights "the great exception" that divided Americans, and at the start of this year the Republican pollster Bill McInturff said that the gay marriage issue could give a significant boost to Mr. Bush, who endorsed a constitutional amendment that would ban gay marriage. But now, he says, it will probably be a minor issue.

Opinion on gay marriage and civil unions has fluctuated over the past year, but a Gallup poll last month showed increased support, with more than a third of Americans in favor of gay marriage and about half in favor of civil unions. The long-term trend has been to a great tolerance toward gays. The percentage of Americans favoring equal rights for homosexuals in employment has risen since 1977 by more than a third to about 80 percent today.

Support for gay rights has become especially strong among young voters, which suggests that the trend will continue.

"Gay rights could prove to be the issue that ends the culture war," Professor Wolfe said. "If gay marriage does not become a polarizing issue in 2004 - and it does not look like it will - there are no wedge issues left."

Why, if the public is tolerant, would the political elites be so angry? One reason given by Professor Fiorina is the decline of party bosses, who promoted centrist candidates because their patronage systems depended on winning elections, and the corresponding rise of special-interest groups, who are more concerned with candidates' ideology.

Losing an election doesn't put pro-life or gun-control advocates out of work - in fact, it can help raise money for the cause. Nor does it hurt broadcast ratings or book sales for polarizing media figures like Sean Hannity and Al Franken, who need battles to keep their audiences entertained.

Another reason is gerrymandering, which has created so many safe seats that the only threat to incumbents comes from within the party, forcing them to appeal to the partisan voters who dominate primaries.

As moderates have become an endangered species in Congress and in state legislatures, the parties' ideological divisions have deepened, and voters have realigned in response. Many moderate liberals who used to call themselves Republicans no longer do, while many moderate conservatives have left the Democratic Party.

The result is greater partisanship, because each party is purer ideologically. But does that mean that voters as a whole are polarized as well?

Not necessarily, although some experts are saying that mainstream voters may be pulled to the extremes.

"The American public is capable of consensus, but right now there are very strong differences on the major issues of the day," said Andrew Kohut, the director the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press. He points to a Pew survey last year showing that Democrats and Republicans differed on a range of issues by an average gap of 17 percentage points, a rise of 5 points since 1990.

Democrats and Republicans differ more widely on their support of the president and the Iraq war than they have in their feelings toward any other president or war since modern polling began six decades ago, said Gary C. Jacobson, a political scientist at the University of California at San Diego. "The public may not be a lot more polarized overall," he said, "but differences in opinions fall along party lines to a much greater degree than was the case 20 or 30 years ago."

A senior strategist for the Bush campaign, Matthew Dowd, does not believe that anyone can overcome the partisan divide this year. Noting that Democrats gave overwhelmingly negative ratings to Mr. Bush the year before the Iraq war, he said: "A portion of the Democratic electorate doesn't like Bush no matter he does. I wonder if they'd be supporting the Iraq war if Clinton were conducting it. But when it comes to Bush, they've made up their minds."

But Professor Fiorina insists the voters are merely responding to a president who is more partisan than virtually all of his modern predecessors. A president who played more to the center might not stir such strong reaction, he said.

"What if Bush had not ignored the widely accepted Powell doctrine by launching the war in Iraq, never proposed drilling in the Arctic refuge and never supported a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage?" he asked. "It's the actions he takes that polarize the voters in both parties. A candidate who seized the middle ground against a polarizing candidate could still win handily."
 

Moonbeam

Elite Member
Nov 24, 1999
72,425
6,086
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Originally posted by: JellyBaby
For myself, I've tried to look at character as a benchmark for voting, but it has been an utter and complete waste of time. Everyone I've voted for has proven to be human!
I was considering that very approach but with a twist: to weigh those candidates with the weakest ego higher than those who ooze it from every orafice. The trouble is, they all desire the power of the presidency so by definition they are likely brimming with ego.

Ah, sweet perfection is so elusive and like you said everyone makes mistakes. I guess that's why we also go by record, historical performance, time of service, accreditation and the like. But now Moonbeam introduces the Banana Benchmark and it has really chimped me out:
You see the would through your own lenses. I never vote for what I believe is in my own best interest in the way you mean it. I vote for what I feel benefits those who could use some benefits since I got everything I need. But I do that, of course, because I believe that benefit means something kind of invisible to some, that I'm best off if others are too. He who is rich in spirit is rich, and he who is poor in spirit is poor even with vast wealth. "In the end the love you take is equal to the love you make." The heart of the lover has wings.
Let loose the bananas!
Elect me, Jelly, and I'll see to it there's a banana on every tree.
 

cquark

Golden Member
Apr 4, 2004
1,741
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Originally posted by: chess9
The Libertarians have some interesting ideas, but they are not practical in my view. Republicans are, for the most part, wrapped up in too much narrow religious dogma to take the Libertarians seriously, and Democrats are much more willing (excepting this Prez) than Republicans to expand government and to spend money like "drunken sailors".

Overall I agree with you, and I wouldn't want Libertarians in power all the time. However, I think our government would be much better for having an occassional Libertarian administration to cut away some of the waste and eliminate some of the worst violations of the Bill of Rights perpetrated on behalf of the War on Terror or the War on Drugs.
 

nageov3t

Lifer
Feb 18, 2004
42,816
83
91
I started as a Republican. then Bush beat McCain for the nomination in '00 and I dropped down to Independant.

I'm socially liberal (pro abortion, pro gun control, pro gay marriage, etc), but I like small government (re: I think the government should stay the hell out of our homes and families).