The country is becoming more libertarian, not liberal

The country is becoming more libertarian, not liberal

“America is becoming more liberal,” a Washington Post opinion headline asserted this past week. The commentary, penned by a Democratic strategist, Steve Rosenthal, pointed out how Americans’ views on several subjects have shifted toward the current liberal/Democratic approach. Among the issues, Mr. Rosenthal cites immigration:

The last time the nation considered immigration reform, in 2006, 52 percent of respondents told Gallup that the priority should be halting the flow of illegal immigration. Just 43 percent preferred to deal with the undocumented immigrants already here. When Gallup asked the same question last July, the numbers had flipped: 55 percent thought the focus should be on immigrants already here, while 41 percent said the priority should be strengthening U.S. borders.

First, those polling numbers are still showing a hefty minority of folks — 41 percent — who believe strengthening borders should be a priority, even if the majority of respondents now believe that dealing with illegal immigrants in this country should be the focus of reform. Democrats should pat themselves on the back for bringing that issue to the forefront, certainly. But strong borders still remain a concern for a large group of people. Democrats ignore that at their peril.

Rosenthal also cites attitudes on big business and marijuana to illustrate that Americans are dissatisfied with the influence of big corporations and more than ready to endorse pot legalization, ideas liberals embrace.

But Rosenthal misses the trend in these Gallup numbers, failing to cite others that paint a more expansive picture. Americans are moving in a political direction, but it’s not toward the liberal politics of progressives on the left. No, Americans are moving more toward the libertarian approach on the right.

If you look at the latest Gallup poll on the “most important problem” facing the country, you find that Americans agree with conservatives/libertarians. Their top concern: dissatisfaction with government. Welcome to Rand Paul territory.  While the percentages in that poll are spread out among a laundry list of items, a full 21 percent identify government and leadership as the biggest problem we face, followed by economic issues. In fact, contrary to Rosenthal’s claim that the social conservative concerns are fading while liberal issues are ascending, “religious/moral/ethics” issues poll above things like income inequality, immigration, homelessness, etc. To be sure, all those issues poll in the single digits, but Rosenthal’s claim of a liberal ascendancy is wishful thinking.

Yes, there are specific issues upon which liberals and libertarians can agree — such as marijuana legalization or gay marriage — but libertarians would endorse those policies because they represent a pulling back of government from individual lives, or at least a return to states’ deciding those policies instead of the federal government. That belief, that smaller government is better than more government, is seen in the Gallup numbers on other issues, as well.

A November Gallup poll, for example, found that 56 percent of respondents do not think health care is the government’s responsibility. This definitely represents a turnaround from polls prior to 2009 that showed the opposite.

The country isn’t shifting left. It’s shifting right…but right toward libertarianism, past social conservatism.  A simplistic but useful way to envision the political spectrum is this: as a straight line with anarchy (no government) at the far right end of the line and totalitarianism (complete government control) at the far left terminus. As you move from left to right, you go through communism, socialism, Democrats, Republicans, social conservatives, libertarians, etc.

America is trending toward the right…but toward libertarianism. Steve Rosenthal is flat-out wrong.


Libby Sternberg

Libby Sternberg

Libby Sternberg is an Edgar-nominated novelist whose works include humorous women’s fiction, young adult fiction, and historical fiction. Her political writings have appeared at Hot Air, the Weekly Standard, Insight, the Wall Street Journal, and Christian Science Monitor.

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