Major Media Mess-Up: “Libertarian” Senators

We’ve caught this kind of mislabeling previously when someone thought for whatever reason that Bill O’Reilly was a libertarian (and it was promptly corrected), but this one rankles me just as well.

MSNBC’s Howard Fineman seems to think branding some moderate Senate Republicans as “libertarian” is hokey dorey (via Liberty for Sale):

Arguably the most interesting — and influential — Republicans in the Senate right now are the libertarians. They’re suspicious of the Patriot Act and, I am guessing, pivotal in any discussion of the NSA and others’ spy efforts. Most are Westerners (Craig, Hagel, Murkowski) and the other is Sen. John Sununu. He is from New Hampshire, which, as anyone who has spent time there understands, is the Wild West of the East Coast. All you have to do is look at its license plate slogan: “Live Free or Die.” It’ll be interesting to see how other nominal small-government conservatives — Sen. George Allen of Virginia comes to mind — handle the issue.

I’m surprised that Fineman so readily throws the word libertarian in here. Simply because someone is for small-government is only a fraction of the equation of what makes a person a libertarian. Once again we go to the Wikipedia definition of libertarian:

Specifically, libertarian politics holds that a person’s freedom to dispose of his body and private property as he sees fit should be unlimited as long as that person does not initiate coercion on the person or property of others. Libertarians define “coercion” as the use of physical force, the threat of such, or deception (fraud), that alters, or is intended to alter, the way individuals would use their body or property. The libertarian political principle prohibiting coercion is known as the non-aggression principle, and many libertarians consider it a defining tenet from which spring all their political views. Libertarians see themselves as consistent supporters of maximum freedom and minimum state intervention in all human activities (where “freedom” is defined as negative liberty).

Go back and take a look at those four Senators’ records and political mappings (Larry Craig, Chuck Hagel, Lisa Murkowski and John Sununu), and tell me they fit even a third of that definition. Don’t get me wrong, I think Howard Fineman is a good journalist and we all make mistakes, but we simply cannot start throwing the libertarian label at every politician who shows an ounce of common sense every once in a while. Because while there may be no Libertarians in the Senate right now, if the Democrats and Republicans as a whole continue on this path of expanding government in size and cost while stripping away liberties, no doubt will he be able to call some Senators libertarians in their proper form after future elections.

Email Howard Fineman yourself to ask that he strike the mislabeling from this article.

Stephen VanDyke

I've published HoT along with about 300+ friends since 2002. We're all Americans who are snarky and love our country. I'm a libertarian that registered Republican because I like to win elections. That's pretty much it.

  1. Hey if this tricks people into voting libertarian in the next elections… I’m all for it. I’m not usually an ends-justify-the-means guy, but when it serves my interest… let the lies be in our favor.

  2. Matt: The problem is that actual libertarians end up getting the short end of the stick if every Democrat and Republican who’s libertarian on one or two issues starts branding themselves (or reporters start branding them) “libertarian.”

    If any senators want to jump ship from a Republican ship sinking into scandal and corruption or the directionless Democrat ship, then by all means the Libertarian Party would be more than happy to accept them. But to simply borrow the libertarian moniker to further confuse voters who are fed up with the the duopoly? Pish posh.

  3. I suspect it’s the same phenomenon as the “progressive” label being misapplied to a lot of nominal progressives during the turn of the century.

    And I’m surprised they didn’t mention Bob Barr.

  4. Personally, I don’t think we’ll start seeing smaller government until the day when Libertarianism, the political movement, is willing to embrace *anyone* who is for smaller government on all sides (as opposed to those who favor limited government where it favors their supporters, and bigger government when it favors those same supporters or disfavors some group they dislike), for whatever reason they can think of. Tossing out the heretics isn’t a good way to get the real work done.

  5. As Stuart Richards said, progressives got their label applied to “nominal” progressives, and progressives have been *very* successful. While we do need to make sure people who *really* don’t deserve it get exposed for the non-libertarians they are, the “nominal” libertarians who just “don’t go far enough” need to be welcomed into the fold.