Last week, a Washington Post article decried the lack of a leader among “libertarian Democrats,” where "libertarian Democrat" means, "members of President Barack Obama's party who break with him on how to balance national security and privacy." The article cited Glenn Greenwald, the prominent journalist who worked with Edward Snowden to expose NSA leaks, and Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) as examples of libertarians working within the Democratic Party.
The article attempts to create a parallel to some of the more vocal members of the Republican Party, such as Rep. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.). As libertarian-leaning members of the Republican Party, both Paul and Amash are staunch defenders of economic liberty, even when it puts them at odds with their own party leadership. Reaching across traditional ideological and party lines, Amash and Paul have also been outspoken critics of government surveillance and the use of military drones.
Libertarians believe that limited government always best, no matter the issue. They are fiscally conservative, believing that taxes, spending, and government regulations should be curtailed, and socially liberal, believing that people have a right to privacy and to do what they please, as long as they don’t hurt others. As a result, libertarians' beliefs tend to cross party lines, and put them at odds with social conservatives and fiscal liberals, alike.
While Greenwald is aligned with libertarians on issues of civil liberties and foreign policy, and has even gone on tour with libertarian group Young Americans for Liberty, he is not a libertarian. As much as Greenwald is an ally when it comes to issues such as ending the drug war, he has stated his opposition to cutting to Medicare or Social Society, and supported a public option during the Obamacare debates.
Wyden, who the articles deems a champion among libertarian Democrats, is hardly libertarian. Wyden voted to pass the two largest entitlement expansions since the Great Society: Medicare Part D and Obamacare. He also voted against a balanced budget amendment, further solidifying his position to the economic left of libertarians. He is also a proponent of gun control, in contrast with the libertarian ethos of, “come and take it”.
Wyden and Greenwald are in favor of having the government steer the economy and maintain safety nets, but are against government spying and wars. This makes them liberals, not libertarians. During former President George W. Bush's administration, many Democrats shared these views, as they tended to be in opposition to the then president's policies. What this Washington Post piece is really saying is that it is now newsworthy when a Democrat and a liberal journalist act like principled liberals. Ultimately, the article illustrates just how far President Obama has strayed from the liberal rhetoric that Sen. Obama once espoused on the campaign trail, especially when it comes to changing America's foreign policy, potential abuses of the Patriot Act, and the Most Transparent Administration in History™.