Today is another matter, because I cannot express this thought otherwise: I now think of myself as a libertarian more than a conservative when I reflect on how my ideological beliefs map onto the political coalitions whose success I desire.
This isn't one of those overwrought, more-in-sadness-than-anger essays that true believers write to announce an ideological conversion. The respect I have for conservative insights remains intact, as does my belief that Edmund Burke and friends remain important guides in our pursuit of prudent governance.
I also retain the reservations I've long had about describing myself as a libertarian and leaving it at that. Bruce Bartlett says that he is "basically libertarian but tempered by Burkean small-c conservatism." It's a characterization I find appealing. Were I able to banish government's role in marriage entirely, I'd refrain, though I do want gays to be able to marry, largely for the conservative reasons so eloquently expressed by Andrew Sullivan. I favor legalizing drugs, but slowly, and with lots of attention paid to how my expectations track the real world results of that policy. I regard the family unit as pretty damned important to a functioning society. Existing institutions matter.
These are but four incompletely articulated examples, but I trust you get the idea: I identify partly as a libertarian, but my failure to automatically support the whole libertarian line as a matter of first principles would cause some who go by that label to kick me out of the free state (an improbable project whose success I'd cheer).
It is precisely this grounding in pragmatism and real world consequences that is pushing me toward libertarianism generally, and especially the brand you find at the Cato Institute and Reason (not that there is anything like consensus within those institutions, which helps explain their increasing attractiveness). It may sound strange to advocate for libertarianism as a practical matter, when conservatives and liberals dominate the political landscape, and it's a struggle to elect even a single libertarian (not that any competitive candidate would call themselves that) to the Senate.
Let me clarify.
The pragmatist in me has concluded, after long experience and repeated disappointments, that the conservative movement is never actually going to deliver on its promise to check the growth of the federal government, however superior its rhetoric might be on that issue; and that the progressive movement is never going to deliver on its promise to protect civil liberties, however superior its rhetoric might be on that issue.
Instead, the conservative movement is going to continue advocating for an unsustainable foreign policy and a vision of executive power that is utterly at odds with the checks, balances, and purposeful limits on presidential prerogatives enacted by the founding generation. And progressives who manage to elect their dream president, plus a majority in both houses of Congress? They won't reverse the trend, so much as ignore it -- the better to pass agenda items like a health care bill that thankfully covers more Americans, but leaves unaddressed many of the worst pathologies of the status quo and acts as a stark giveaway to influential industry players.