Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Are Libertarians Bad for libertarianism?

Libertarianism, capital "L", describes someone who supports and votes for the Libertarian Party. In the last presidential election that was me. The other word, libertarianism is someone who wants to individual liberty. There are libertarians in both major political parties, but for the last couple of years it has been hard for me to compromise on either one. Historian and policy adviser Bruce Bartlett, may have changed my mind:
Theoretically, this is no barrier to third parties at the state and local level. But in practice, if a party cannot win at the presidential level, it is very unlikely to achieve success at lower levels of government. In short, the Electoral College imposes a two-party system on the country that makes it prohibitively difficult for third parties to compete.

Furthermore, to the extent third parties exist, they invariably hurt the party closest to them ideologically. When Ralph Nader ran for president in 2000 and 2004, for example, he didn't hurt George W. Bush, he hurt Al Gore and John Kerry. Maybe a few of Mr. Nader's voters wouldn't have voted at all if he hadn't run, but the vast bulk of his votes came from Mr. Gore's and Mr. Kerry's totals. Needless to say, Mr. Gore and Mr. Kerry are certainly closer to Mr. Nader generally than the man he helped elect.
Even worse than hurting their political allies, they hurt themselves. Too often libertarians avoid real avenues to affect government because of their fear of becoming impure. For the LP it seems to be more about the debate than about change:
They show the LP is essentially a high-school-level debating club where only one question is ever debated -- who is the purest libertarian and what is the purest libertarian position?
The fact is that the Republicans and Democrats are the government. Every libertarian in the Libertarian Party, is one less in the Republican or Democratic Party. So what's the solution?:
In place of the LP, there should arise a new libertarian interest group organized like the National Rifle Association or the various pro- and anti-abortion groups. This new group, whatever it is called, would hire lobbyists, run advertisements and make political contributions to candidates supporting libertarian ideas.
Here is my only rebuttal. History has shown that when minor parties gain popularity, major parties adopt their ideas to win back voters. It worked for the Populist Party in the late 1800's and it could work for Libertarians today. That said, I think activists who want a small government are going to be inherently less likely to join the bureaucracy to change it. But for now I'm going to agree with Bartlett, it seems the best way to effect government is to join and change it.

1 comment:

  1. Good points, although I would agree with your hesitancy to throw out third parties just because they can't win. The quote about the LP/high school is so on-the-money. I would point out that Ronnie P. understands all this, which is why he ran as Republican, and why he's using his campaign money to start such an organization.


You are the reason why I do not write privately. I would love to hear your thoughts, whether you agree or not.