We're Libertarian, We're Pragmatic—Get Used To It!

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The Libertarian Party held its national convention this last weekend and turned aside some more idealistic candidates for leadership from the Libertarian Reform Caucus. The Caucus' candidates promised to water down the party's platform and message as a way to, you know, win some elections already.

Fringe politics does not work in the United States. A political party must appeal to a plurality of voters (effectively, at least 40%) in some districts in order to win elections. Since districts vary, such a party could get away with appealing to less nationwide, but it must at least appeal to 20-30%.

In other words, for the Libertarian Party to be effective, it must appeal to the top 20-30% of freedom-lovers. Appealing to the tiny minority of freedom-lovers who want no government at all, or something very close to that, is a recipe for failure.

The platform and message of the Libertarian Party is extreme, sacrificing practicality and political appeal in favor of philosophical consistency with a single axiom. As such, the party currently appeals only to a tiny fraction of the voting public.

The Libertarian Reform Caucus is working to reform the Libertarian Party, to turn it into an effective tool for increasing liberty.

Ron Gunzberger of Politics1 has a report on the fissures this caused at the convention, with one member calling the LRC "neocon traitors" and another forming—what else?—a splinter group.

It's easy to joke about this, but what are the big subjects of discussion in the political blogs right now? One is whether libertarian-minded voters are up for grabs. Another is whether the extreme divisions, hilarious incompetence, and disregard for liberty of the two main parties could pave the way for a third party. And the latter issue isn't so much a debate as a martini-fueled fever dream for political reporters—a McCain/Lieberman ticket! America rushing the hoist the flag of Michael Bloomberg!

So, a reconstituted Libertarian party that's anti-war and anti-tax, and focuses on winning local elections instead of scoring 0.5% of the presidential vote? As my favorite independent candidate says, why the hell not?

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  1. Libertarian Party = Educational organization.

    It looks like a campaign, it’s actually a multi-month, hands-on seminar in the philosophy of freedom. Participate in debates with your fellow citizens, think about reasons for your political opinions, hang around with comerades and curse your oppressors. It’s fun, it’s educational, it’s a good for your soul.

    But it’s not real politics. (Thank God!)

  2. Libertarian convention, eh?
    Lemme guess: There was at least one guy with a ridiculously large cowboy hat, a guy with a Right to Bear Arms tshirt, a guy with deelie-bobbers and red suspenders (probably playing a harmonica), and a lot of guys in string-ties.

    I agree with How It Is. The LP will never make even marginal headway as long they let CSPAN televise the freakfest.

  3. I am up for grabs. And I’ll be good and rule out any Coasean solutions. But pandering? Oh hell yeah, I’ll take that.

  4. I was at the convention, so I can report on a few things from first-hand knowledge.

    There were a pretty good number of people in t-shirts bearing various messages; there were also a LOT of people in dress shirts and even suits & ties.

    The floor debate was remarkably civil, particularly given how radical the decisions were that came out of it.

    I came out of the event with some measure of hope for the LP as an effective representative of the pro-liberty movement in this country. Not as much as I held in my younger, more idealistic (and pre-9/11) days, but some.

  5. I’m sure if we all just blog harder, we’ll eventually win the presidency.

  6. Lemme guess: There was at least one guy with a ridiculously large cowboy hat, a guy with a Right to Bear Arms tshirt, a guy with deelie-bobbers and red suspenders (probably playing a harmonica), and a lot of guys in string-ties.

    I don’t even know what deelie-bobbers are, but I found that funny.

  7. At this point, the Libertarian Party has just too much baggage to unload to ever become mainstream. We desperately need a viable third party. The best hope, it seems to me, is for a split-off from the main parties. More likely to happen on the Republican side, if the fiscal conservatives get upset enough with the way things are going, but forming a coalition with other “limited government” constituencies would be difficult.

  8. A political party must appeal to a plurality of voters (effectively, at least 40%) in some districts in order to win elections. Since districts vary, such a party could get away with appealing to less nationwide, but it must at least appeal to 20-30%.

    According to many polls, a fair number of voters already agree with a lot of the LP’s agenda. The problem is that with plurality voting you are forced to choose only one candidate, so you usually settle for the “lesser of two evils”. This further reinforces a two party system alienating any legitimate attempts at introducing a third party. The last time a ‘third party’ supplanted a sitting major party in this country was when the Whig Party self-destructed over slavery allowing the Republican party to rise to prominance and take it’s place. That was in 1854. Reforming the voting system to allow for Condorcet or even Approval Voting would be a better system for expressing the true public appeal of parties than bashing our heads against a brick wall and is the only way that any ‘third party’ will gain headway in this country.

    Voting laws are determined on a state by state basis. Run LP candidates for local elections but run as Dem or Rep to state positions. Then focus on changing the voting system to allow third parties a fighting chance. Then, and only then, can the LP hope to win anything remotely federal in nature.

  9. “The Caucus’ candidates promised to water down the party’s platform and message as a way to, you know, win some elections already.”

    About goddamned time.

    I dislike the idea of having to water down the libertarian ideology in order to make it palatable to the general public, but it’s a better choice than continuing to lose elections.

    The coffee-shop intellectualism of a lot of libertarians is, quite frankly, annoying.

  10. Just for the record, I don’t recall seeing even one string tie, though there was a fellow who spent both days of the convention in a Statue of Liberty costume, with a sash reading “I Miss America.” Clever.

  11. Isn’t pragmatism the philosophy (or lack thereof) that currently reigns supreme? And you want more of it? Or is the idea here a sort of Libertarian Trojan Horse?

    Good luck with that. I’ll keep my principles and hold my vote if no one is worthy. In the final tally we will continue to get the representatives we deserve.

  12. Who will be the first blogger elected to high office? When will it happen?

  13. The platform should propose a realistic vision for the next few years, as opposed to an idealistic vision of a libertarian future. The public expects a party platform to show what a party’s candidates intend to do during the next term of office. If the party wants a long term vision statement, it should be in a separate document labeled as such.

    I’ve recently been arguing something similar. Here in Illinois a libertarian concerned with the gold standard, or getting rid of all public education will never be elected.

    But, A libertarian who believed in the bill of rights (for all, not just white people, not just men), local controlled and funded education (even the conservatives of SCOTUS feel that the rights of a federally funded teacher trumps those of a parent in regards to guardianship), and a minimalist government would stand a chance.

    Most libertarians want to fly, but take offense at the suggestion that they should learn how to buid a plane first, they just lay around and cry about how the .gov gets bigger and bigger.

    Play chess, learn strategy. If we you have a choice between moderate attitudes and stopping .gov growth, and radical attitudes that do nothing to slow growth, does that mean that a libertarian who only goes radical actually supports big government?

    From a strategy perspective, YES. The radical libertarian may actually fuel the growth of the government.

    As we have seen, big government republicans use libertarian ideology as suppresion fire, while actually increasing the size, scope, and reach of the government in ways even the democrats never concieved of (not that democrats aren’t a threat in this manner themselves, they can get pretty creative in meaningless gov growth, but it was a liberal SCOTUS that gave us the exclusionary rule, a clear limitation on government power, even if little else).

    Should a libertarian who has helped the republicans convince America that they want small government, when they actually want to expnand it feel guilty? Damn straight they should.

    When I heard that Tony Snow considers himself a “libertarian” I knew that the transformation was complete. Libertarians had become shills for one (stress one) of the most massive increases in centralized control in our history.

    Just like the games of three card monty that I watch on the train here in Chicago.

    Regardless of whether someone is conservative, liberal, libertarian or green. If you truly want to change peoples minds, having a healthy respect for what people actually want is a good starting place. So often libertarians just sound like petty children dictating the rules they claim aren’t rules, on the playground.

    In my heart I know I’m a libertarian, but until others who consider themselves such learn to respect their fellow citizens, I won’t call myself that in public.

  14. I am in the LRC and considered a “reformer.” I am also considered a “purist” of the more anarcho-capitalist wing. ( Yes there are many “pragmatic principled purists” in the LP). This whole talk of “outsiders and necons” is the biggest BS in the world. Almost everyone I know of in the LRC has been a dues paying member of the LP since at least 2000 or earlier ( or would have been if they weren’t so young). “reformers” oppose the Iraq war and that = “neocons”? WTF.

    If anything many of the “purists” ( ok some, not all, maybe not even most) are the ones who most want to be “republicans who really hate taxes” are more “conservative”..perhaps even bigoted,etc. They get a hell of a lot more bent out of shape when a “reformer” appears “liberal” ( oh no, the communists are infiltrating us) than “conservative.”

    For the most part, however, the entire split comes down to who wants to “have a political party” and who doesn’t. Some “purists” either DESIRE a debating society where they can be big fish in a very small pond or they ( despite being in love with the “non-agression” pledge) look forward to and openly advocate violent overthrow or secession. they don’t want to “do politics” at all. These are the fucking kooks who call “reformers” neocons and shit, WTF.

    The LP is seen as kooky enough. And now there are all these self-professed “principled” conspiracy theorists. They really think that life-long LP members who support libertarianisn 100% are some kind of communist or neocon infiltrators? Yeah, I know I’ve been sitting around at my computer the last 7-8 years plotting and planning to take over a small faction of a political party with 35 years of complete failure in electoral politics, right.

    Also, “reformers” ARE NOT outsiders. And they welcome the “purists” (pragmatic or not) in the party and believe there is a place for them. They arent running around calling everyone a “communist” or “neocon” and purposely trying to alienate people who publicly support the LP.

    The point is, if you don’t want to have a political party, why have one. Go live in your bunker and be an anarchist, it doesnt bother me.

  15. The platform should propose a realistic vision for the next few years, as opposed to an idealistic vision of a libertarian future. The public expects a party platform to show what a party’s candidates intend to do during the next term of office. If the party wants a long term vision statement, it should be in a separate document labeled as such.

    I’ve recently been arguing something similar. Here in Illinois a libertarian concerned with the gold standard, or getting rid of all public education will never be elected.

    But, A libertarian who believed in the bill of rights (for all, not just white people, not just men), local controlled and funded education (even the conservatives of SCOTUS feel that the rights of a federally funded teacher trumps those of a parent in regards to guardianship), and a minimalist government would stand a chance.

    Most libertarians want to fly, but take offense at the suggestion that they should learn how to buid a plane first, they just lay around and cry about how the .gov gets bigger and bigger.

    Play chess, learn strategy. If we you have a choice between moderate attitudes and stopping .gov growth, and radical attitudes that do nothing to slow growth, does that mean that a libertarian who only goes radical actually supports big government?

    From a strategy perspective, YES. The radical libertarian may actually fuel the growth of the government.

    As we have seen, big government republicans use libertarian ideology as suppresion fire, while actually increasing the size, scope, and reach of the government in ways even the democrats never concieved of (not that democrats aren’t a threat in this manner themselves, they can get pretty creative in meaningless gov growth, but it was a liberal SCOTUS that gave us the exclusionary rule, a clear limitation on government power, even if little else).

    Should a libertarian who has helped the republicans convince America that they want small government, when they actually want to expnand it feel guilty? Damn straight they should.

    When I heard that Tony Snow considers himself a “libertarian” I knew that the transformation was complete. Libertarians had become shills for one (stress one) of the most massive increases in centralized control in our history.

    Just like the games of three card monty that I watch on the train here in Chicago.

    Regardless of whether someone is conservative, liberal, libertarian or green. If you truly want to change peoples minds, having a healthy respect for what people actually want is a good starting place. So often libertarians just sound like petty children dictating the rules they claim aren’t rules, on the playground.

    In my heart I know I’m a libertarian, but until others who consider themselves such learn to respect their fellow citizens, I won’t call myself that in public.

  16. Just for the record, I don’t recall seeing even one string tie, though there was a fellow who spent both days of the convention in a Statue of Liberty costume, with a sash reading “I Miss America.” Clever.

    $20 says it was Starchild.

  17. Gary, you’d collect your $20. Seemed like a nice fellow, regardless of his odd costume.

  18. The libertarian party…….the third party.so complex,we just care about what’s the most important point,what do benefit to citizen and country

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