And I have to admit, I've asked myself the same question many times. (In moments of clarity, however, I would maintain that my political evolution has traveled more from extreme libertarianism to the center, not the far left. After all, is it really so radical to think that Social Security and Medicare are worth preserving?)
I still don't have an answer to that question, though, and in launching this blog back in 2008 I had hoped to explore my political journey. (It was also, let's face it, about covering Illinois high school football.)
Like any evolution, the origins of mine are murky. For example, even though I cast my very first vote for Ronald Reagan (in the 1976 Minnesota caucuses) I never voted for the Gipper for president. (I voted for John Anderson in 1980 and didn't vote at all in 1984.) But as recently as the 2008 Illinois Republican primary, I voted for Ron Paul -- and not ironically or mischievously. And, then, just a few short months later I voted for Barack Obama, the first time I ever voted for a Democrat for president.
(I know what you're thinking: Maybe you're just nuts. It's been suggested before.)
So how did this all come to pass? (I'm still not completely sure.) But the current government shutdown reminds me of the last one in the mid-1990s. As a Libertarian (yes, with a capital "L") I practically rejoiced: Our moment has come! The time has finally arrived to roll back the welfare state! Hallelujah!
And, then, a few days later (or weeks, I can't remember) there was such an outcry from the public that the Republican House backed down and the government reopened and, well, you know the rest.
But for me it was a revelation: Not everyone hates government as much as I do! Maybe, just maybe, I reasoned, the majority of Americans like what the federal government does. And, later, I realized that maybe the public sector provides services to people that the private sector cannot (or will not).
Ross Douthat, writing in the Times today, quotes David Frum from the early 1990s (my emphasis):
Conservative politicians take power imagining that this time, THIS TIME, they will finally tame the New Deal-Great Society Leviathan … and then they make proposals and advance ideas for doing so, the weight of public opinion tilts against them, and they end up either backpedalling, getting defeated at the polls, or both.
And that's part of the problem: It's hard to be a libertarian when the vast majority of people value federal programs like Social Security and Medicare. They're providing goods and services to people that the private sector can't. (To give you an example, before Social Security about half of all senior citizens lived below the poverty line. Today it's less than 10 percent. That, as Martha Stewart would say, is a good thing.)
Private pensions don't cover everyone. Nor do private health insurance companies. And, honestly, where would we be without public education, the interstate highways and the court system? And how in the world would we support a defense department without public funds? The Koch brothers?
So the current shutdown has reminded me of why I am no longer a libertarian: It's just not realistic. Now try telling that to some of my tea party friends.