The sheer shock and disbelief that I've noticed in some comments sections (here, on other blogs, on facebook) about the category "bleeding-heart libertarians" seems to me partly rooted in a quirky fact about libertarianism in political philosophy.
Rawls' Theory of Justice is was the defining work of anglophone political philosophy of the past half-century. And it defended a kind of liberalism– one that accords a priority to liberty, one that rejects state-mandated moralism, paternalism, and perfectionism. It was also a kind of liberalism that defended a political economy oriented toward the well-being of the worst off.
Rawls' liberalism shares a great deal with classical and market liberalism. It is genuinely individualistic and liberal, not social-democratic or socialist, in its moral outlook.
Nozick's Anarchy, State, and Utopia thus engaged with the remaining difference: where Rawls thought that a political economy had to be justified in terms of its attention to the welfare of the least well-off, Nozick (roughly) thought that it had to respect rights, in a way that precluded the Rawls' attention to distributive patterns. (Though the two were not necessarily mutually exclusive in a world characterized by past injustice, such as our world.)
So libertarianism as a doctrine in political philosophy had this distinctive contribution to make: it rejected state activity to increase the material well-being of the poor. I think by gradual drift, that came to seem like all libertarianism was concerned with. (And that gelled with some underlying tendencies I mentioned in my last post, as well as with the Randian moralization of the difference between producers and others.)
But in the real world, state action to improve the material lot of the poor is not a very large portion of state action. This is politically predictable, almost trivially so. But that means that the focus on libertarianism's apparent philosophical difference with Rawlsian liberalism gives us a very distorted sense of the work libertarians could do politically in the world. We don't live in a Rawlsian world, separated from Nozick's by the existence of poverty-alleviation programs. We live in a world characterized by massive state action of all sorts, most of which does nothing to alleviate poverty and a great del of which is actively regressive or harmful to the worst-off.
Hence, a rhetorical justification for B-HL or liberaltarianism. Let us not talk as if the set of policies endorsed by Rawls and not by Nozick somehow makes up most of the action of a state we're supposed to be in the business of trying to limit.
David Stockman's stated goal of targeting budget cuts on "weak claims, not weak clients" was in a sense obviously politically doomed. But that doesn't alter the imperative to try to do as he said he wanted to do. And I think a headline commitment– right in our name, as it were– to targeting "weak claims, not weak clients" can be helpful there.