Costa Rican Libertarians Sell Out, But No One's Buying

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Costa Rica's Movimiento Libertario takes government funding and tries to moderate its message; still gets trounced at the polls. From the report by "Jorge," an American libertarian in Costa Rica, at Sunni Maravillosa's blog:

The ML abandoned libertarian principles in favor of a pragmatic approach because, as Otto Guevara, the party's presidential candidate, said "we need to be more moderate and move closer to the Costa Rican people if we are going to gain power."….In 2002 the ML received 1.7% of the vote for President and 9.34% of the vote for the Asamblea, electing six Diputados (congressmen). To do this they spent a bit more than US$ 200,000 in privately raised funds, explicitly rejecting government funds as immoral.

This time around, they spent roughly US$ 1,900,000 and accepted state funds. For President, Guevara received 8.4% of the vote….For Diputado, the ML has received 9.08%. It seems that they have elected six, but one has a razor thin margin, which may just disappear when all the votes are counted….
…..
Internally, the ML was expecting 20% for both President and the Asamblea. This was widely leaked. On the 5th of January Otto said in an interview that they were going to get 23% or 24% for President and 12 to 19 seats in the Asamblea.
…….
Guevara and his group expelled the hard core libertarians, or as he called them "radicals," from the party, saying that they were responsible for impeding the growth of the party. He said that by becoming "moderate" they would move closer to the Costa Rican people, thereby gaining many more votes.

So, they abandoned ideology, purged the "radicals" from the party, spent 9.5 times what they did before, and came out slightly worse. Maybe significantly worse if the seat that is hanging by a thread is lost.

Add to this that one of the two major parties, in fact the one currently in power, basically imploded. PUSC has been plagued by corruption scandals and the current President is very unpopular. Their Presidential candidate only received 3.4% of the vote. For the Asamblea they only received 7.6%. Yet the ML did not benefit from PUSC's demise. Not a single seat. Can you imagine the Republican Party in the United States self destructing and the LP failing to gain anything from that?

Jacqueline Passey, another American libertarian in Costa Rica, questions the value of moderation in the pursuit of votes, with links within to other commentary on the Costa Rican election.

Otto Guevara talked to Reason's Julian Sanchez about the Movimiento's history and prospects back in 2003, when he was still opposed to state funding for the ML.

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  1. I don’t know much about Costa Rican politics, but if they got 6 seats out of 57 last time around, by LP standards that would be really fricking good! If the LP got 35-40 House seats in a US election I’d like to hope that they would keep doing what they were doing, rather than trying to change direction.

    I don’t know why the ML didn’t improve, but I’m never all that surprised when people who are doing pretty well (in relative terms) decide to change course and suddenly start doing worse. That’s true of just about any endeavor.

  2. Some smart kid out there could probably raise their tuition for the year by sellin’ “I’m not a real Libertarian.” t-shirts at places where libertarians tend to congregate.

  3. If congressional seats were awarded according to the percentage of the vote, the Libertarian party might do better. I think even Lib-leaners mights consider voting for the party if they had more than an infinitesimal chance of winning some seats.

  4. What is missing from the bit is more of the political context of Costa Rica at the moment — we see two candidates in a neck and neck battle — even in a parlimentary system, a neck and neck race between two front runners tends to dampen the vote of other minor parties. If Otto and his crew had moderated the message and spent a lot more money they would have had a lot more success in the last election — perhaps not, who knows. I don’t know exactl what is going on with the ML — perhaps the “radicals” in ML are/were twats with no electoral sense who wanted the party to run on a return the gold standard or some such dumb thing like many radical libertarians I met over here are — brilliant in one sense but when you talk strategy and politics have their head permanently buried in thier ass. Again, I don’t know.

    btw I’m a radical libertarian but gladly moderate my message when talking to people who are new libertarianism. Baby steps.

  5. Can you imagine the Republican Party in the United States self destructing and the LP failing to gain anything from that?

    Judging from recent past elections, yes I can.

  6. In fairness, the headline should read “Costa Rican Libertarians Sell Out, But Don’t Gain Market Share” or “Costa Rican Libertarians Sell Out, And Maintain Status Quo,” or “Costa Rican Libertarians Do Equally Well Without Noisy Purists.”

    Yours truly,
    Mr. X

    …surprised by the negativity…

  7. Has anyone else clicked on the “Libertarian Reform Caucus” ad up yonder to the right?

    …I’m more interested in culture than politics now.

  8. Can you imagine the Republican Party in the United States self destructing and the LP failing to gain anything from that?

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Libertarian_Party_%28United_States%29

    In two Massachusetts Senate races (2000 and 2002), Libertarian candidates Carla Howell and Michael Cloud, who did not face serious Republican contenders (in 2002 the candidate failed to make the ballot), won a record-setting 11.9% and 19%, respectively.

    This should give you an idea of the upside of the LP in the US at present, for better or worse. I was living in Massachusetts at the time of time of both elections. In the region where Carla Howell lived she got roughly 20% of the vote, and all this with minimal campaign funding, to say the least. It doesn’t hurt that everyone in Massachusetts knows a Republican couldn’t possibly get elected Senator in Massachusetts.

  9. I certainly dont think the LP should purge “purists” ( or “non-purists” as in the past). but the reality is a political party needs to “do politics” and not be a debate/mutual masturbation society. Sometimes that may mean focusing on different issues and putting some on the backburner ( doesnt require a compromise of priniples, IMO) the US LP, if anything, has done the opposite and been unfriendly to non-purists who are still libertarian and might have a chance at more than 0.3% of the vote. I think most Lpers want to fail at politics, so they can continue the stance that they are just smarter than 99% of the population, and dont care to ever break 1%. When you compete in elections , you have to appeal to non-libertarians.

    So while Costa Rica is wrong, it is at least right as far as realizing, from a message and PR standpoint at least, that the hardline LP message of the past is a failure.

  10. Honestly I dont think the LP should brag about 11-19% of the vote in a 2-way race. That should be pretty much automatic just being on the ballot with no other serious choices. It doesnt even merit a mention in most press, because people are used to a Republican defeating a Democrat(and vice versa) 80%-19%. Poll 11%+ in a true 3-way(or more) race ( and I dont mean with a joke Rep. candidate in Mass), then you can brag.

  11. So while Costa Rica is wrong, it is at least right as far as realizing, from a message and PR standpoint at least, that the hardline LP message of the past is a failure.

    I’m not sure that’s right. The ML got the same number of seats running last time on a pure message. Also, as one of the posters on Jacqueline’s blog points out, the current ML has not deviated from the Libertarian line much, other than taking public campaign funds.

    Empirically, I think it does show that the purist hardcore (at least in Costa Rica) doesn’t add anything when it comes to winning elections. That’s how I read the data.

    Politics is a market, just like any other. If people don’t buy what you’re selling, you’re not successful just because you sit around talking about how stupid your customers are.

    Believe the market.

    Yours truly,
    Mr. X

    …rocking out…

  12. Ken-

    I browsed the link a little. I’m sure they mean well, but:

    1) Does the libertarian movement really need another faction?

    2) I checked out the diagram on this page. There’s a frickin’ equation! They even have the words “In the linear approximation”! I’m sure they mean well, but I’d say that they’re just as clueless as the LP when it comes to appealing to ordinary people.

    I wish the best to anybody with good ideas, and out of curiosity I’ll join their mailing list, but I’m not holding my breath for results.

  13. I wish the best to anybody with good ideas, and out of curiosity I’ll join their mailing list, but I’m not holding my breath for results.

  14. Woops!

    That’s the second time I’ve done the let’s-leave-the-back-end-of-the-italics-open-thing this week!

  15. That getting Reason on television might do more for our cause than getting a libertarian in Congress.

    I like it! Jacob Sullum could do the cooking segment (best brownies EVER!).

  16. Cavanaugh could review zombie movies!

  17. Jesse Walker could do Arts & Entertainment.

  18. There could be a segment called, “On the Other Hand, with Cathy”.

  19. Does the libertarian movement really need another faction?

    Well, if competition is a good thing, why not?

    But then, I think the “movement” would be improved by a loss of a faction – the LP.

  20. But then, I think the “movement” would be improved by a loss of a faction – the LP.

    Sadly, repeated for emphasis. Although, does GWB have a driver’s license?

  21. I’m trying to imagine the Libertarian Party equivalent of party fixers like James Carville or Ralph Reed.

    It all seems very wrong somehow, like if the Beatles had recorded Charles Manson’s songs on Abbey Road.

  22. Ken’s right, I’m afraid. Or perhaps he’s just hitting the tip of the iceberg.

    The current state of politics in this country is exactly how unlimited (or nearly so) democracy works. If you don’t believe me, read the public choice guys – the current situation is the result of individually rational decision making.

    So, the battle is not to win at politics, especially not at the price of surrendering on one point to gain on another – that just reinforces the dynamic that got us where we are. The battle is to win the cultural battle of ideas. And that’s going to be hard as long as the state is a several trillion dollar behemoth with the ability to aggress against you and your property without accountability.

    The other problem with ranking your priorities on terms of ‘achievability’ is you lose possible converts who see you as a hypocrit ‘covert’ apologist for one or the other party’s extreme wing – I know, that’s why I refused to buy wholeheartedly into libertarianism for many years – I was reading too many ‘libertarians’ who only cared about economic issues, but demanded immediate subservience to the state whenever there was an Oceania to fight (and isn’t there always?).

    Either you believe the philosophy, or you are just like the other parties, and pick and choose which issues you want to be left alone on and which you want the state to butt into others’ lives on. Which doesn’t make you evil, or anything like that, but it means the system has coopted you, and you’ll continue to spin your wheels pointlessly, in an endless round of compromising with one faction, while losing support from another, and therefore needing to make other compromises to gain support from a different faction, and pretty soon you’re indistinguishable from the Republicrats…

  23. “Politics is a market, just like any other.”

    No. Wrong.

    Politics is the anti-market, as it involves a non-voluntary transaction at its base, and then mushrooms into a multitude of non-voluntary transactions.

    A market is something that involves only voluntary transactions.

    But nice try at introducing Marx.

  24. I was reading too many ‘libertarians’ who only cared about economic issues, but demanded immediate subservience to the state whenever there was an Oceania to fight (and isn’t there always?)

    You mean you’d been reading Hit and Run? πŸ™‚

    As to politics and markets, politics is certainly different but it can have the common element of competition.

  25. It will shock everyone here to learn that I could not more strongly disagree with quasibill. You will never get a libertarian cultural transformation to occur by trying to convert people to libertarian ideology.

    1) People in general are not ideologically motivated in their daily lives. Some small subset of people may be, but not people in general. Further, the two current coalitions of voters are non ideological in large part. They are policy driven. That’s why conservatives aren’t ‘for small government’ and liberals aren’t ‘for the little guy’. That libertarian commentary continually harps on these two points as though they should be surprising is a failure of libertarian commentors.

    2) People in general are motivated by specific benefits to them. Some are motivated by specific economic gains and others by fear of the unknown. People in general vote on specific policies they like or fear.

    3) Judges won’t save us. They won’t violate accepted populist wisdom by more than X amount. There will be no libertarian revolution from the bench.

    4) Efficacy means playing the coalition game. If you try to make a majority coalition swallow libertarianism whole, they will choke on it. The number of votes committed small government types bring to the table is much less than the number of toes in each coalition that truly small government would step on all at once. The coalition choice between all or nothing from the libertarians will always be nothing. I can’t say this strongly enough – most people are not remotely libertarian in the same way we are.

    Ergo, the only thing we can do is convince large numbers of people that we are right on one issue at a time.

    The sunset of the assault weapons ban is the only beacon of hope I can remember seeing. It shouldn’t have happened according to common wisdom. Who wants to be the guy who puts “machineguns” back on the streets? We won that one not because of a small government ideology sweeping the land, but because Dems perceived that they got their asses handed to them on that one policy – so they backed off.

  26. I don’t know that I’m entirely in Jason’s corner on the notion that single issues are the only way forward. But certainly you can’t sell the idea of smaller government as a one-size-fits-all package that you either take or leave. The whole idea of defending individualism is that some people will like one part of the package and others will like another and they’ll pick and choose and do what they want.

    Ken’s idea of promoting libertarian ideas (different from ideology) in popular culture is a good one. But expecting change to come from getting people to embrace ideology? Not so libertarian.

    Step 1: Achieve total consensus and ideological conformity in the population.

    Step 2: ????

    Step 3: FREEDOM!!!

    Yeah, I don’t think so.

  27. Quasibill,
    Nice try at redefining market, but you’re wrong.

    “In economics, a market is a theoretical model in which buyers and sellers interact to optimize certain variables such as utility or profit.” -Wikipedia

    It’s not a perfectly free market, but I’m not sure such a thing exists.

    Yours truly,
    Mr. X

    …not buying…

  28. Look, if the LP wants to win some elections, it should go after the libertarians who are excluded from the show in the GOP. Avoid divisive topics like legalization or abortion, focus on restoring limited government, eliminating or radically changing the income tax, and protecting core civil liberties. A tough job, to be sure, but there are a lot of people who are tired of the Beltway nonsense.

  29. And, for any people in the GOP out there, there’s always the Republican Liberty Caucus. I don’t see a big difference between that group and the LP, except that the RLC is somewhat more pragmatic. Not always good, but I see more hope of the RLC getting some libertarians elected that the LP.

    What do pro-market, limited government Democrats do? Jump ship? Or is there a kind of inverse of the RLC within their ranks?

  30. Jason,

    No surprise here πŸ™‚

    However, you might be surprised that I agree with your sub-points, I just draw different conclusion.

    “People in general are not ideologically motivated in their daily lives.”

    Absolutely true. Which again, is why democracy is what it is today – and the public choice people show you why. What they really care about is personal gain. So no idiot that isn’t ideologically motivated will ever vote for a Senator who promises to vote against ALL pork. All he will be doing is making sure his state becomes a net payor in federal largesse.

    “People in general vote on specific policies they like or fear. ”

    Again, exactly. And since many, if not most, of us are irrational in our fears, you get all kinds of special interests which swamp out the majority – again, public choice economists have this all mapped out. Those, who for example, irrationally fear death at the hands of an international terrorist will make this a do-or-die issue for a candidate. A candidate who doesn’t take their position will alienate them, thereby guarantee losing their votes. Generally, their isn’t a strong “anti-fear” special interest that is so single minded to become one issue voters. As such, there is much less risk to offending the anti-fear constituency – by definition, they are more rational with respect to the issue, so they are less likely to be one issue voters. This pattern is repeated for tree-huggers, “corporations out to reduce us to poverty”, etc., etc.

    “Judges won’t save us.”

    Again, absolutely true, as a matter of logic. Why? Judges are either appointed or elected, and therefore, by definition, cannot be immune to politics or the parties that currently dominate politics. At the point where libertarian judges are elected, you’ll be at a point where they really aren’t needed – libertarian politicians will be elected.

    “Ergo, the only thing we can do is convince large numbers of people that we are right on one issue at a time”

    I have no problem with that either. I just think that any “party” that engages in an attempt to rank which liberties are more important, is doomed to become indistinguishable from the GOP or the Democrats. In fact, it will look most like the current Democratic party, as you will have a coalition of groups that may have widely divergent priorities and in fact often have conflicting goals. As the Democrats are learning, you can’t please all those different groups all the time, and the opposition will whittle you down by picking and choosing strategic stances on particular issues. Thereby forcing you to play into their caricature of you by forcing you to play to your base even more strongly in order to have a chance.

    Honestly, Jason – you and I agree on many points. But because of our single disagreement on your support for a total warfare state, while I see the warfare state as a bigger threat than a welfare state (although they are two sides of the same coin). I doubt we could ever agree on an appropriate candidate, even if we were the only two voters in the district. And in the libertarian land, there are a few like me, and many like you, and then there are many who consider themselves “civil libertarians”. Trying to find a candidate that can appeal to all three camps is guaranteed to look like the Democratic party.

  31. “Quasibill,
    Nice try at redefining market, but you’re wrong.

    “In economics, a market is a theoretical model in which buyers and sellers interact to optimize certain variables such as utility or profit.” -Wikipedia”

    Well, Wikipedia’s a nice reference, granted, but it should never be considered authoritative or normative, in the sense that you’re using it. It’s just as likely that that definition was penned by a Keynesian or Marxist.

    Here’s a better definition of market:

    An institution whereby two parties voluntarily trade.

    Pretty simple and straightforward. And clearly excludes politics. And no need to reference Marx or even Smith, or to take a college level macroeconomics course.

    Not buying what you’re shoveling, sorry.

  32. Thoreau,

    I’d cast it this way, for those who advocate the political approach:

    1. Form coalitions.

    2. ????

    3. Elect libertarian candidates that don’t pander to special interests that are reliable voters on single issues in their constituency.

    And the funniest part of that progression is that these people are often the most ardent supporters of democracy – although in step three they want politicians who are generally unresponsive to the desires of their constituents.

  33. quasibill, I see this as akin to the Founders’ argument over whether we needed a Bill of Rights or not. I’m thinking that strongly enforcing the limits on government would necessarily limit the abuses against civil liberties. Also, there’s an argument that a more limited government would have a more difficult time going to war–at least, without more direct action by Congress.

    Therefore, I think all of us anti-unchecked power folks should unite on that issue, fix the problem, then divide and fight over what the limited government can do within its little box.

  34. What do pro-market, limited government Democrats do? Jump ship? Or is there a kind of inverse of the RLC within their ranks?

    http://freedomdemocrats.org/

    While this site is out there, none of the Democrats I know are particularly interested in anything resembling a free market or limited government.

  35. Isaac, I have one friend who is pretty far to the left who agrees with me about limited government. Now, he wants the welfare and regulatory stuff, but he also realizes that the dangers of an unlimited government are too great to ignore. One of the benefits of total GOP control is that even Democrats have to realize that too much power in the “wrong” hands is dangerous and must be avoided, even if that means power in the “right” hands must also be limited.

  36. “none of the Democrats I know are particularly interested in anything resembling a free market or limited government.”

    Well, none are interested in a free market, that I know personally. Limited government? Most are, at least in privacy and cultural issues.

    On the other hand, all the Republicans I know in person are abortion voters, who don’t necessarily agree with the idea of free markets either – they just assume the GOP is “right” on economics because it is “right” on the issue of abortion. It doesn’t matter what the GOP actually says or does in economic issues, its just right, no matter what.

    Online, I know many stripes of each.

    Politicians? I know of only one that is for either free markets and/or limited government. He happens to have an (R) behind his name, but you wouldn’t know it from his speeches and votes…

  37. “Therefore, I think all of us anti-unchecked power folks should unite on that issue, fix the problem,”

    Problem is, many “anti-unchecked power folks” are actually just fine with unchecked power, as long as Oceania is out there. It makes them all warm and fuzzy knowing that a supposedly all-powerful, benevolent big brother is out there looking out for them, cuddling them in his massive arms. They always posit that liberty must wait for Oceania to disappear. Unfortunately for us, it never does, it just changes names…

  38. On the other hand, all the Republicans I know in person are abortion voters, who don’t necessarily agree with the idea of free markets either – they just assume the GOP is “right” on economics because it is “right” on the issue of abortion.

    That’s been pretty much my experience too. But I was talking about Democrats and I didn’t think I needed to put in an Anti-Republican disclaimer.

    Also since I live in Central Florida, I don’t get to meet many Democrats, so I shouldn’t be making any judgments. πŸ™‚

    The one thing I am glad about is the fact that the religious left and the religious right are divided by issues like abortion, evolution and sex education. If they ever got united it would be hell.

  39. Liberty first, security second. If we’re willing to fight and die to get liberty in the first place, why are we unwilling to risk death to preserve it? I know that’s harsh, and I certainly don’t see this as an either-or proposition (i.e., it’s not all liberty therefore no security or vice versa), but, in the end, a free society must endure harms that it incurs principally because of the fact that it is a free society.

  40. Call it personal gain or call it ideology; “Liberty for me but not for thee” is the essence of politics, and religious organizations, for time immemorial. The libetarian mantra of liberty for me AND for thee scares the shit out of most people. I think it’s a perfectly fine ideology and actually does promote the “greater good”, but it’s foolish to stump for votes that way. People want to hear soothing words, consistency of the actions with those words isn’t very important. I believe libertarian actions will be consistent with their words, but a foolish consistency…

  41. Isaac, I have one friend who is pretty far to the left who agrees with me about limited government. Now, he wants the welfare and regulatory stuff, but he also realizes that the dangers of an unlimited government are too great to ignore.

    I wonder how he deals with the cognitive dissonance of wanting a redistributionist nanny state of limited powers.

    Most of these lefties don’t really want a government of limited powers in principle, they want a government without any real limits on its powers to exercise use those powers only for what they want.

  42. none of the Democrats I know are particularly interested in anything resembling a free market or limited government.

    On further reflection a more accurate statement would be:

    None of the people I know are particularly interested in anything resembling a free market or limited government.

    That’s why I like Hit and Run.

  43. I wonder how he deals with the cognitive dissonance of wanting a redistributionist nanny state of limited powers.

    Probably pretty much the same way drug warriors (which includes of course most of the nanny staters as well) deal with prosecuting the drug war while they deny that it’s creating a police state.

    Most people don’t seem to realize that saying “there ought to be a law” is pretty much the same as saying “I’m willing to kill people over this”.

  44. Nobody likes a loser.

    People won’t consider voting for the LP until they see some success.

    It’s like one of those vicious things.

  45. “Most of these lefties don’t really want a government of limited powers in principle, they want a government without any real limits on its powers to exercise use those powers only for what they want”

    Which is different from those who clamor for a “unitary executive” exactly how?

    That’s the beauty of unlimited democracy – everyone thinks they have the ability to impose their will on others.

    Warfare state/Welfare state. Can’t have one, without the other.

  46. Oh, and the Libertarian Reform Caucus ads look like shit. Nobody’s going to look at them.

  47. “None of the people I know are particularly interested in anything resembling a free market or limited government.”

    That’s the point I was trying to make – I wasn’t trying to say you should have qualified your first statement.

    In fact, the only person close to a libertarian I’ve ever met personally is my father, but I’ve only just realized that recently. He’s always kept his political views under the radar.

  48. AND NOW FOR SOMETHING COMPLETELY DIFFERENT:

    Would someone please tell Mr. Chavez that the cold war is over? From the Economist today:

    “Venezuela’s president, Hugo Ch?z, expelled the United States’ naval attach?n Caracas for spying, prompting the Bush administration to send home the number two at the Venezuelan embassy in Washington, DC. Mr Ch?z said he would seek arms in Russia and China.”

  49. “Probably pretty much the same way drug warriors (which includes of course most of the nanny staters as well) deal with prosecuting the drug war while they deny that it’s creating a police state.”

    Not to mention the way certain hawkish libertarians insist that having a globe straddling military is consistent with small government.

  50. Greg said “Poll 11%+ in a true 3-way(or more) race ( and I dont mean with a joke Rep. candidate in Mass), then you can brag.”

    LP candidate Richard Ford was hoping to do much better than that in a Missouri State House 3-way special election on Tuesday, but at least he got 11.6% and so I guess he can do some bragging if he feels like it. (The result is even more impressive when you consider that the race between the top two candidates was a tight affair — 45% to 42%.)

    The fact that this is considered a “good” result, demonstartes again how much the plurality voting system unduly punishes third parties. Approval Voting anyone?

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