Libertarians may not realize it, but Mitt Romney just gave them a very big present.
Knowing – as libertarians do – that humanity lives in a world of scarcity and tradeoffs, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) is the right choice for the vice presidency. As a candidate, he is the least risky among all the other options. And crucially, he offers libertarians the rare chance to trade some purity of policy for a much greater amount of political credibility -- on the issue that poses a clear and present danger to our free society: federal overspending.
In choosing Ryan as his running mate, Romney has indicated he is serious about addressing the debt crisis quickly as his term would begin. This is not because of anything that has changed since John Adams called the vice-presidency "the most insignificant office devised by mankind." A Vice President Ryan wouldn’t have any real power – he would have less authority than he does now as chairman of the House Budget Committee – but he would be the tireless spending-cuts spokesman of a Romney Administration.
That’s something anyone who has diagnosed the government’s main problem of overspending should applaud, particularly libertarians.
The opportunity Paul Ryan offers libertarians, and those conservatives who are serious about addressing the spending problem, was articulated concisely by Margaret Thatcher after she first met Mikhail Gorbachev: “We can do business together.”
On federal spending, libertarians can do business with Paul Ryan.
Certainly, there have been a couple other leaders who have offered more libertarian-friendly proposals. But as quickly as Kentucky U.S. Senator Rand Paul’s star is rising in the GOP, it was never a real possibility for anyone with the surname Paul to be on the other end of Romney’s ticket. Within the GOP establishment, Ryan toes the spending reform line more persuasively than any other, and, by forming a plan to control runaway entitlement spending, has established extraordinary credibility on the issue.
Ryan speaks the libertarian fiscal language, both as a wonk and as a public spokesman. Now that he has accepted an official national role, his authority over the fiscal policy message has skyrocketed. Libertarians can either choose to influence that message by supporting Ryan, or withhold all support because his ideas aren’t perfect.
But the probability of Ryan accepting the need to reduce military spending and other GOP budget mainstays is higher if libertarians work with him to construct and promote a better budget plan.
Right now, libertarians have a choice to either stand rock-solid on economic principle and maintain limited influence on national policy, or increasing their standing by playing the imperfect game of politics. There are any numbers of reasons to argue persuasively that this will not happen, but it is still well worth a serious try.
If this the beginning of the libertarian era many optimists predict, libertarians must aid Paul Ryan in his latest bid and accept the opening to political relevance offered to us today by none other than Mitt Romney.