Having recently heard many Idaho conservatives—even those who lean libertarian—extolling the Idaho Republican Party platform, I decided to revisit it. To be fair, there are a number of good positions in there with which I agree. Privatizing Social Security, abolishing the inheritance tax, and 'encouraging the State to seek authority to oversee the utilization of natural resources on federal lands within the state' are just a few of the more controversial suggestions I support. Unfortunately, there are also a lot of problems with the document (and I don't just mean typos and formatting errors though those abound as well.) In this essay, I have attempted to shed light on some of these problems as well as provide some practical advice for how the GOP platform—and the party overall—could better embrace libertarian principles. Please feel free to leave a comment at the end of the article if you would like to have a discussion on these issues.
It anthropomorphizes the state
In its preamble, the platform refers to the "strength of our nation" and the "sovereignty of the state." References to state sovereignty exist throughout the rest of the document as well. These attributes—strength and sovereignty—are not attributes of governments or the territories they claim, but of individuals. If a platform is intended to celebrate and promote the liberty of individuals, it must not grant such traits to institutions of oppression.
The platform also calls for the "Idaho Legislature and Governor" to "nullify any and all existing and future unconstitutional federal mandates and laws, funded or unfunded, that infringe on Idaho's 10th Amendment sovereignty," but lacks any corresponding recommendation that individuals likewise 'nullify' any law or mandate which infringes on their natural rights.
The Idaho Republican Party Platform claims that "the proper role of government is to provide for the people only those critical functions that cannot be performed by individuals or private organizations." [Emphasis added.] This statement is consistent with the minarchist viewpoint which calls for a night-watchmen state. The platform also quotes Thoreau by stating "That government is best that governs least." While this language sets up an expectation that the platform will call for radical reductions in the size and scope of government, the remainder of the document will disappoint.
In Article I, Sec. 1, there is a reference to "the unnecessary growth of government" which implies there must be corresponding 'necessary' growth. Article I, Sec. 5, expresses support for the "state legislature" and "elected constitutional officers" who "work together" to "improve Idaho's economy." In Article IV, we read that "the primary function of government in agriculture should be service, research, and the promotion of markets."
Article VII states that "The Idaho Republican Party believes that the United States shall at all time strives [sic] to become energy independent" and that "We strongly support energy policies that encourage research and development of our energy resources, including natural gas, hydroelectric power, petroleum, nuclear energy, and new technologies." It also claims that "Idaho has the lowest electrical rates of the fifty states. Nothing should be done in the deregulation process that might raise those rates."
Do energy, agriculture, and the economy fall under the purview of a night-watchmen state? Are items such as the "promotion of markets" and "policies that encourage research and development" "critical functions that cannot be performed by individuals or private organizations"? Is opposing deregulation if it might cause the market price of energy to increase consistent with support for free markets?
Article IV, Sec. 4 states that "We endorse the preservation and strengthening of the family farm unit as the foundation of agriculture and one of the basic strengths of this nation." This is not consistent with support for a minimal state or a free market. If the market is moving in the direction of large-scale, corporate farming rather than the "family farm," government should not intervene.
In Article III, the platform claims that "education is a joint responsibility of the individual, the family, and the community" and calls for "efforts to improve our public school system." It also asserts that "the education and research that occurs at our institutions of higher learning contributes substantially to a vigorous economy, heightened competition and a vibrant participatory government."
Is it the position of the Idaho Republican Party that education—K-12 and beyond—is a 'critical function' of government that "cannot be performed by individuals or private organizations?"
In Article XIV, Sec. 3, the platform states that "We reaffirm our support for the sanctity of life from conception to natural death," but in Article XVI, Sec. 2, it states that "We believe the death penalty is an appropriate consequence for the most heinous crimes…" Is being intentionally murdered by the state a form of "natural death"?
It's too religious (and too discriminatory)
The preamble claims that "the strength of our nation lies with our faith and reliance on God our Creator…" In Article III, we read that "the future of this great state lies with our faith and reliance on God our Creator…"In Article VI, it states that "The Idaho Republican Party recognizes that the beautiful and fruitful land that we have been given by God, our creator, must be properly cared for to ensure that its rich blessings will continue to be enjoyed for generations to come."
The only proper connection between government and religion is that government should offer religious freedom and toleration to those of all beliefs. The repeated references to "God our creator" give preference to one specific type of belief and do not comport with the words of Thomas Jefferson, when he said, "it does me no injury for my neighbour to say there are twenty gods, or no god. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg."
There are also multiple references to "family values" in the platform, but the policy positions espoused such as prohibiting gay marriage, restricting immigration, and pushing monotheistic religion are not about strengthening the family, they're about promoting a homogeneous culture based on a worldview which is becoming increasingly less relevant as people move beyond superstition and bigotry.
Indeed, the platform opines that "traditional family values are the foundation of our nation" and that families should "preserve and perpetuate our cultural and spiritual heritage, and assure that our traditional values are transmitted to the next generation." How traditional are we talking here? 'Only white property owners get to vote' kind of traditional or something else? Appealing to tradition is a poor excuse for refusing to acknowledge and correct the evils of the past.
Its positions on tax policy are all over the map
The preamble states that "taxpayers should allow the government only the money necessary to provide appropriate functions," but the platform later praises the Mountain Home Air Force Base, a National Missile Defense System, Idaho National Laboratory, the Idaho Fish and Game Department, and other entities whose 'appropriateness' is questionable.
Article I, Sec. 2, states that "We support lower federal, state, and local taxes," but also says "We believe Idaho's tax structure should be predictable, fair, and balanced, and that the combination of our income, sales, and property taxes will continue to provide a stable, dependable source of income for governmental needs." It also calls for a "comprehensive overhaul of the federal tax system requiring universal participation." [Emphasis added.]
In Article I, Sec. 5, there is a call for a "reduction of Idaho's income tax rates" and "a reduction in property taxes whenever possible," but no corresponding call for a reduction in sales tax or fuel taxes.
Article I, Sec. 2, grants that "high taxes are a burden on businesses, families, and individuals" and under Article XII, Sec 2, entitled "Support for Small Business" we find support for "a tax code that is simple, fair and equitable." Under Article XIV, Sec. 1, there is support for "a tax system that strengthens a family's economic ability to care for and support its members" (whatever that means.)
In other words, the platform acknowledges that taxation is harmful, but seeks to extend it to more individuals, all the while paying lip service to 'lower' taxes. It calls out several taxes for reduction, but extols the continuation of income, sales, and property taxes in Idaho despite the fact that five out of the six states that surround Idaho have either no sales tax or no income tax.
Are we supposed to believe that "universal participation" (i.e. higher taxes for some people than they are currently paying) will strengthen families or small businesses? Ron Paul has observed that 'half of people don't pay income taxes… we're halfway there,' and such a position is more consistent with wanting to help families than is a call for pushing more people into the tax system.
The end result of all these contradictory positions on taxation is that the platform fails to offer up a coherent or consistent tax policy. Lower in general, especially for some taxes, but keep all of them, and make more people pay; keep it 'fair' and 'predictable,' but we really care about families and small businesses is just noise and leaves one unsurprised that the state legislature's last foray into tax policy ended up eschewing compromise and resulting only in a massive tax increase for everyone.
It's really abysmal on individual rights (especially for minors)
Article XIV, Sec. 2, entitled "American Family" actually seeks to prevent the formation of new families by stating that "We call upon government officials and legislators to protect the traditional family and use all means possible to prevent expansion of the definition of marriage beyond that of a bond between one man and one woman." I would also point out that this position is really at odds with the platform's claimed support for "a tax system that strengthens a family's economic ability to care for and support its members." One of the primary legal benefits of a marriage is the associated tax incentives and prohibiting same-sex marriage denies certain families access to the very tax system the platform extols.
Article XIV, Sec. 3, asserts the Party's predictable opposition to abortion, but offers up no exceptions for rape, incest, or the health and well being of the mother. Moreover, it specifically states that "We oppose the use of Idaho taxpayer funds to finance so called “health” abortions." The scare quotes around the word 'health' are in the original document. There is also a call for requiring "parental consent for minors to obtain an abortion" despite the fact that forcing a teenager to inform her parents of an unplanned pregnancy could (and frequently does) result in abuse. The basic principle of self-ownership is compromised by demanding that a minor must obtain parental consent to exercise control over her own body by obtaining a legal—and sometimes medically necessary—procedure.
Article XVI, Sec. 2, states that "We believe the death penalty is an appropriate consequence for the most heinous crimes…" Not only is this at odds with the Party's claimed belief in the "sanctity of life," but it perpetuates a broken system which has been responsible for the unnecessary death of dozens of innocent people over the last century.
Article XVI, Sec. 3, bemoans the "dreadful consequences of drug and substance abuse in our society" without ever acknowledging the component of individual rights or personal choice involved, and fails to call for an end to the persecution of nonviolent drug offenders, instead advocating "creative alternative sentencing, such as drug courts, and treatment." No mention of legalizing marijuana or its many medical benefits is found in the platform and neither is any condemnation of the murderous police state which the failed War on Drugs has spawned.
Article XVI, Sec. 4, calls for "requiring inmates, to the extent they are capable, to perform labor or otherwise contribute to the cost of their incarceration." Instead of calling for a restitution-based justice system where those who harm others labor to restore their victims, the platform calls for forcing those caged by government to labor for the benefit of the state.
Article XVI, Sec. 5, entitled "Juvenile Justice" offers up support for "dealing with youthful offenders early to reduce future impact to the welfare and correction systems." The pejorative tone of the phrase "deal with" should be enough to cause alarm at this idea, but the fact that the apparent goal of "juvenile justice" is to keep people off welfare (rather than to acknowledge the underlying systemic causes of most juvenile crime) is just offensive.
Article XVII, Sec. 4, claims that "securing the national border must be a priority for our country." Despite plenty of rhetoric about the importance of the 'family' throughout the platform, this call for preventing the free movement and free association of individuals reveals the truth: discrimination on the basis of birthplace takes precedence over individual liberty for the Idaho GOP.
Article XVII, Sec. 5, offers support for "the use of military force" in the "efforts to combat terrorism." Where should I begin? There is, of course, the fact that terrorism only exists in this country as a response to US foreign policy. There is also the fact that almost everything (and I'm being generous with the 'almost') done to "combat terrorism" constitutes a gross violation of individual rights.
I am a libertarian, and I want to see the Republican Party (especially in Idaho) become more libertarian as well. I know that the Republican Party will never fully denounce all compulsory taxation or support completely open borders as I would like, but I believe that there is room for improvement even within the realm of current political realities. It is with this goal and these caveats in mind that I make the following recommendations for the Party and its platform.
- Stop praising government. Government is a necessary evil at best. It's not helpful and it's not our friend. Even state and local governments are antithetical to liberty. They exist and we have to deal with them (for the time being at least), but let's not pretend they're anything but an impediment to individual freedom.
- Stop supporting government activities and institutions. You can offer suggestions for making government intuitions less evil without pretending they should exist. Public schools are a very good example. They should be privatized, but they're not going away anytime soon. Therefore I support tax credits for non-use of public schools as a good interim effort toward the full privatization of education.
- Really support the free market. That means supporting free trade, giving up nationalistic exceptions (like the supposed superiority of domestic energy production), and accepting that relics of the past (e.g. the 'family farm') may eventually be phased out. It also means giving up support for cronyism and other types of government incentives and policies that are designed to nudge (or shove) the market in a particular direction.
- Keep religious references to support for religious liberty. Someone doesn't have to believe in God in order to be a good person or a value to society. This also means not using the law to criminalize an action just because you believe it to be a 'sin' according to the dictates of your religion.
- Really support the family—in all its forms. This means you have to support it even if it includes gay people or people who came to this nation without asking permission. Breaking up families by supporting deportation isn't pro-family and neither is trying to prevent marriage or adoption by homosexuals.
- Adopt a coherent tax policy that promotes free markets and free people. Yes, lower taxes are better than higher taxes generally speaking, but that alone is not a sufficient answer to this complex issue. Reducing government spending is a necessary prerequisite to reducing taxes and that means stating precisely what current functions of government should be eliminated.
- Support individual rights. This means legalizing marijuana, not mandating vaccines, and ending emissions testing for vehicles. It also means repealing status offenses and laws criminalizing voluntary sexual interaction. It ultimately means allowing people to do whatever they want so long as they don't infringe on the rights of others to do the same.
- Support real criminal justice reform. This starts with repealing the death penalty and ending all for-profit prisons. It means moving to a system where only actions that actually harm someone are considered crimes. It means changing penalties to be about restoring the victim and not enriching the state or satisfying base desires for revenge.
- Take some responsibility for "terrorism." It's not a popular position, but the existence of modern-day terrorism is due almost entirely to the interventionist foreign policy of western nations—especially the United States. Instead of "fighting terrorism," the US should recall its troops and shutter its foreign bases as a cost-cutting measure and as a sign of good faith. It should end all sanctions and stop meddling in the affairs of other nations. At home, the goal should be to reduce military spending by increasing accountability, terminating pet projects, and focusing on defense against realistic threats.
- Be realistic about abortion. Accept that abortion is a legal medical procedure. Focus on the prevention of unplanned pregnancies and persuading those who experience them to choose alternatives rather than criminalizing abortion or using the law to make abortions more expensive or otherwise difficult to obtain. Acknowledge that, in some cases, abortion may be the correct choice. Above all, recognize that there are good-faith views on all sides of this sensitive issue and refrain from persecuting those whose views differ from your own.
I know that my suggestions won't sit well with those who want to use the power of government to push their religious views and restrict individual freedom, but I'm hoping to find a more receptive audience among those whose professed support for liberty is more than just perfunctory. I hope you will take a moment to leave a comment below so that we can have a meaningful conversation on these issues. I believe it's a conversation worth having, and I hope you agree.