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Libertarianism challenges the old left-right divide

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Rand Paul
U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., in Lexington, Ky., in a file photo from Oct. 25, 2010.
AP Photo/Ed Reinke

In a recent article in Politico, reporter James Hohmann says that libertarianism, long considered a radical movement stereotyped as pro-pot, pro-porn and pro-pacifism, is moving into the mainstream. 

Read the post-show takeaway

Led by Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., he writes, libertarians hope to become a dominant wing of the Republican Party by tapping into a potent mix of war weariness, economic anxiety and frustration with federal overreach in the fifth year of Barack Obama's presidency.

The retirement of Paul's father, U.S. Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, long a libertarian icon but considered slightly goofy, is allowing the movement to try to rebrand itself as a reasonable and serious element of the GOP.

In a  rebuttal to the Politico article, though, Reason.com says the movement is trendy because Ron Paul's ideas received an airing during his two presidential campaigns, not because of any efforts by the younger Paul.

According to NPR, Rand Paul himself may have aspirations toward a 2016 presidential run, which would likely raise questions about what many consider the mixed legacy of his father.

When it comes to actually winning elections, however, the movement faces steep challenges: Former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson, who ran as the Libertarian Party candidate in 2012, received 1.2 million votes, or 1 percent.

THE TAKEAWAY: Rand Paul's filibuster was a paradigm buster.

"Rand Paul is a very canny politician," Matt Welch, the editor of Reason, told host Tom Weber. "His filibuster [against U.S. drone policy] was a pretty epic moment in American politics ... partly because of the way it completely scrambled the usual left-right paradigm. You had Code Pink and Van Jones giving him a high-five, and you had Bill Kristol denouncing him, and Lindsey Graham  and John McCain calling him wacko bird, and this kind of thing. And it really sheds light on the fact that our traditional left-right paradigm isn't always the best way to look at things. Sometimes it's better to look at things in terms of 'Do you favor government intervention,' or 'Do you favor more individual autonomy and control over your life?'

"It's fascinating to see that this is happening at the same time that there's  a growing youthful libertarianism, even among people who don't self-identify as libertarians. And that's not a Republican thing, and it's not a conservative thing at all. It's a strange tension where applied libertarianism in politics right now is an almost exclusively Republican phenomenon... but actual libertarianism in the country might be as much left of center as it is right of center, and it aligns on issues like  war, civil liberties and drug legalization."

The conversation became a comment magnet, on The Daily Circuit page and on Twitter:

@dailycircuit If libertarians would dump their obsession with private ownership of everything, they would get my vote every time.

— 46thParallel (@46thParallel) April 23, 2013

Sara in Minneapolis: My irritation with Libertarianism right now is that it seems to draw people who are really just looking for an excuse to act with single-minded self-interest. They seem to prize the "individual right" as exponentially more important than doing what's best for the most people, and sometimes more important than doing what just makes sense. The notion that it's more moral than other philosophies doesn't ring true, at least not right now.

Dave:  How does a libertarian deal with something like the BP oil spill, or the fertilizer plant explosion in TX? How can individuals or markets hold these corporations accountable for their irresponsible actions?

Brad Froman:  Libertarianism is the only political/social philosophy that reflects the original idea that created America. It embraces the understanding that a democratic republic requires a moral, virtuous, educated citizenry to be able to handle the responsibility of self-government. And it especially understands that personal and economic freedom is mandatory for our survival.

Gregory Kapphahn: If the average person were the type of rational actor that Libertarians imagine us to be, we would never have needed government in the first place, nor would we have developed governmental structures. The fact is human nature and especially our tendency toward psychological dysfunction makes the world Libertarians imagine to be the utopian ideal impossible. What Libertarianism gives us is anarchy in which the person or group with the most firepower runs everyone else's lives.