Looking through his platform, one is left with the impression that what Sarvis really means to say is that he is a social liberal. He is in favor of gay marriage, is (radically) pro-choice, and supports the legalization of marijuana. In this regard, he stands in stark contrast to the Republican candidate, Ken Cuccinelli, who is campaigning for a state marriage amendment, is staunchly pro-life, and, although critical of the War on Drugs and of the current sentencing rules, seems to be broadly against the legalization of pot.
The question, then, for anyone interested in taxonomy, is, Do Sarvis’s social positions make him a “libertarian” in any meaningful way? In my view they do not. Whatever America’s media class would have you believe, social liberalism does not equal libertarianism — and it never has. Social liberalism equals social liberalism. Indeed, even if you accept that “pro-choice” and “libertarian” are consistent bedfellows, which I absolutely do not, the social positions held by Sarvis are really just standard progressive fare, held also by millions of Americans who wouldn’t dream of cutting taxes, expanding gun rights, or rejecting a Medicaid expansion. (Note that Sarvis wants the state to recognize gay marriages and not to get out of marriage completely. His is the progressive preference.)
If we are to accept that support for legal pot and gay marriage do not inherently make one a libertarian, then we should insist that they do not inherently make Sarvis one either. Suffice it to say: That a politician is not a Democrat but is nonetheless critical of the social policies of a Republican hardly makes him Murray Rothbard.
The challenge here seems to be how we are to weight the importance of a candidate’s political positions. It is generally agreed upon that Ken Cuccinelli is a “conservative.” Is this fair? The Washington Examiner’s Tim Carney has convincingly suggested that it is not. “If he wins on Nov. 5,” Carney writes, “Virginia’s Ken Cuccinelli would arguably be the most libertarian governor in the United States.” I think that Carney has a point. Cuccinelli has an A rating from the National Rifle Association; he has promised to cut the state’s income-tax rate by a stunning “15 percent for individuals and 33 percent for corporations”; he was against expanding the death penalty when the state GOP wished to make it part of their platform; he fought hard against the smoking ban; he has been a strong and active foe of Obamacare from the start; and he staunchly opposes the Medicaid expansion that further expands the power of the federal government. For these positions, he has been endorsed by both Ron and Rand Paul. (For neither of whom, it should be noted, is a pro-life position regarded as sufficient to negate their claim to the title “libertarian.”)
A Quinnipiac poll from yesterday shows that Sarvis is actually “taking” slightly more of the vote from Democrat Terry McAuliffe (47 percent) than from Cuccinelli (45 percent). This shouldn’t be surprising. Effectively, Sarvis is running as a slightly more economically responsible moderate than is Terry McAuliffe, not as a consistently pro-liberty voice. Adding “libertarian” to one’s self-description is clearly a useful thing to do. It allows one to run within an established party structure against the status quo, to distinguish oneself from the social conservatism that we are told by experts is the Right’s primary problem, and also to appropriate a word that is increasingly popular with younger voters. Nevertheless, words have meanings — and simply calling yourself something you clearly are not isn’t enough to make it true.
— Charles C. W. Cooke is a staff writer for National Review.