Lhota's libertarianism: Less Swanson, more Goldwater
Joe Lhota, the former deputy mayor and M.T.A. chairman who is planning to run for mayor of New York City as a Republican, is a self-described libertarian.
The apparent dissonance between that label and Lhota's extensive public resume prompted at least one comparison to Ron Swanson, the misanthropic, government-hating parks department manager on NBC's "Parks and Recreation".
But of course "libertarian" is a famously subjective term.
During a recent interview with Lhota, who recently announced he's leaving the M.T.A. after just a year to explore a run for mayor, I asked him if he still considered himself a libertarian.
"Oh, very much so," he said.
How does that square with working for government?
"Don’t confuse libertarianism with anti-governmentism," Lhota said.
"I don’t work in a part of government that infringes on people’s rights,” he went on. “If anything, I work in that part of government that gives people freedom and gives people rights, and always have.”
Lhota has never run for political office before, but his career in government is a long one.
Before he was M.T.A. chief and before he worked for James Dolan as an executive at Cablevision, Lhota worked for Rudy Giuliani as his budget director and first deputy mayor.
In 2011, Lhota returned to the public service when Governor Andrew Cuomo appointed him chairman of the M.T.A., where he worked to reduce operational expenses but also called for more public investment in mass transit.
Lhota's view of the usefulness of government and regulation, and his understanding "people's rights," makes him a libertarian, if that's what he is, of a distinctly different sort than, say, Ron Paul.
Lhota thinks, for example, that there should be more government oversight of guns.
"Thank you GEOFFREY CANADA," he wrote. "This is war; a war worth fighting."
Lhota's libertarianism on other issues, too, puts him on the same side as liberals, as he noted in the recent interview: “I’m actually, for a Republican, I’m pretty socially progressive."
(Paul opposes most government regulation of guns but also opposed the N.R.A.'s recent proposal to put publicly funded armed guards in schools as unnecessarily intrusive.)
Lhota told me he "absolutely" supports the legalization of marijuana and thinks same-sex marriage should be recognized at the federal level.
“I won’t be happy until same sex couples are given the same rights that I have with the Internal Revenue Service and the Social Security Administration," he said. "The federal government’s got to get its act together and understand that this is another civil-rights issue that needs to be addressed at the federal level."
But there are many other issues on which Lhota, the prospective mayoral candidate, has yet to articulate a position.
In the interview, Lhota pointed admiringly to Barry Goldwater, the Republican senator and presidential nominee known as "Mr. Conservative," who had a profound impact on the idea of libertarianism in America.
“He was pro-gays in the military and he was pro-liberalization of marijuana laws," said Lhota. "And it’s fascinating, I mean, for lots of reasons. I mean, he was truly a libertarian.”
"It’s eye-opening to think that what was a conservative and what did they believe in 1964 and then juxtaposition it to the conservative movement today, which has been taken over by social conservatism," said Lhota. "It’s really amazing."