Libertarian Party Platform Revisited

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George Squyres, the chair of the LP's platform committee, provides a detailed and nuanced discussion of what happened with the LP's platform at its Portland national convention earlier this month, and why. An excerpt:

The factions in the party refuse not simply to listen to each other, but to even consider that each is legitimate. The reformers consider the purists as sociopaths who want the LP to be nothing other than a protest organization, and who don't want to win office as that success would leave them without something to protest. The purists consider the reformers as spineless Republicrat wannabes who will do anything to gain power, ready to sell out principle and whore themselves to gain a few votes. In the midst of this is another faction that doesn't accept either of the other factions but continues to, as Ken Lindell put it in his recent article in Liberty, "jockey for position in an utterly powerless political organization."

Add to this that the platform has long been considered the battleground where somehow political success is going to be won or lost. Getting the platform right is the silver bullet that will propel our candidates to success! Once the other faction has been banished from the platform, America will rush forward in a return to freedom. Yes, I know this sounds silly, but too many believe that this is where the rubber really meets the road…..

My own account of the convention and its goings-on here and here.

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  1. The national party is a joke.

  2. The purists consider the reformers as spineless Republicrat wannabes who will do anything to gain power, ready to sell out principle and whore themselves to gain a few votes.

    In other words, play politics. If this is truly the hardline position, the reformers are right. The hardliners don’t want a POLITICAL party at all.

  3. This is the problem with the libertarian movement as a whole. A lot of people view pragmatism as “selling out” the principles of liberty. The hardliners want instantaneous, revolutionary changes in the social structure of this country. It’s a great thought, but barring an outright civil uprising it isn’t gonna happen. The reformers know this and figure any slowing of the erosion of liberty is better than doing nothing. Personally, I think the hardliners need to step out of the political ring and form a PAC or an educational organization and allow the “politicians” to make inroads, small as they may be. It took this country 230 years to get away from liberty a step at a time, it isn’t going to revert back overnight.

  4. The goal is less government, more liberty. However, if the LP gives up too much on its core liberal principles, then the goal won’t be achieved, even if the LP ever attains political success.

    For me, it’s just a matter of finding a pragmatic way to get to the end goal of a freer society. To the extent that the LP (or other libertarians) take the slow sure road, I’m okay with that. Even “two steps forward, one step back” would be an improvement. What I don’t want is a third party that morphs into the existing hard-to-differentiate-when-in-power party system. Still, there’s plenty of room in the LP for good ideology and political pragmatism.

  5. I think this is an excellent illustration of what is meant by the notion “The perfect as the enemy of the good.” Sometimes it is wise to settle for progress in achievable, bite- sized, chunks.

    (third attempt)

  6. The reformers consider the purists as sociopaths who want the LP to be nothing other than a protest organization, and who don’t want to win office as that success would leave them without something to protest.

    An accurate assessment of the situation, except “sociopaths” is a pretty loaded word. “Ideologues” would describe them better.

  7. Mike-I prefer “raving whackaloons” or “slavering moonbats,” but I get your point.

  8. I still don’t see how any party (or candidate) who opposes both the War on Drugs and gun control is going to have success, anywhere in the country. And I say that as a person who opposes both those things.

  9. Crimethink said

    “I still don’t see how any party (or candidate) who opposes both the War on Drugs and gun control is going to have success, anywhere in the country. And I say that as a person who opposes both those things.”

    Gun control is not in the same league as drugs..
    In the 90’s democrats found it to be a looser for them to try to impose more of it.

  10. Crimethink said

    “I still don’t see how any party (or candidate) who opposes both the War on Drugs and gun control is going to have success, anywhere in the country. And I say that as a person who opposes both those things.”

    Gun control is not in the same league as drugs..
    In the 90’s democrats found it to be a looser for them to try to impose more of it.

  11. Getting the platform right is the silver bullet that will propel our candidates to success! Once the other faction has been banished from the platform, America will rush forward in a return to freedom. Yes, I know this sounds silly, but too many believe that this is where the rubber really meets the road…..

    Since I wasn’t at the convention, I’m not an authoritative source on this matter, but this looks like a strawman to me. I have trouble believing that a large number of LP “reformers” believe that changing the platform, by itself, will take us even halfway to bringing about the advent of libertopia.

    But there still appear to be some good tactical reasons why it’s in the LP’s interests to amend it. One is that leaving the platform full of uncompromising, all-or-nothing rhetoric makes it much easier for a Republican or Democratic candidate to discredit an LP candidate as an extremist kook – just think of all the times you’ve seen a politician in the U.S. or Europe get discredited by writers or bloggers by means of quoting from the party’s platform. A second is that keeping the platform as is will make it harder to attract candidates who are capable of drawing in some votes. And a third is that such a platform’s more likely to result in knee-jerk dismassals of the LP at-large by those who aren’t very familiar with it (read: most of the American public).

    So while I don’t think that amending the platform to appeal to a broader slice of the voting public is some kind of panacea for the LP – and to be honest, I’m starting to think that the FPTP system we have in the U.S. makes it unlikely that there’ll be a serious dent in our political duopoly anytime soon – I think it still might be necessary in order to give the LP a chance at gaining a more meaningful following.

  12. Because of circumstances in the USA in recent times (i.e. throughout the existence of LP), a specifically libertarian small political party is useless or worse, even though the circumstances in Costa Rica and some other countries may make such a political party quite worthwhile. It’s very path-dependent.

    It might have been worthwhile to have founded LP in the USA ca. 1930, but 1970 was either too late or far too early.

  13. I agree with the purists that altering the platform merely to gain mainstream appeal and political power is not the right thing to do. Gaining power by hiding the true libertarian ideals using a platform designed for mainstream acceptance would only work in the short term. A Trojan Horse is not something that can be used multiple times on the same people and eventually the changes to the platform would have to become permanent or the newfound acceptance and political power would be lost.

    I also fear that the LP has become a haven for statist conservatives that embrace certain aspects of the existing platform but are really more motivated by a party that closely resembles the Republicans without the taint caused by recent events like the war in Iraq.

  14. If this reform had actually gutted the platform, if it had jettisoned some core principal, I would be with the purists screaming for blood.

    I don’t see that. A more concise platform is a better platform. In the same way the US Constitution is better than the EU Constitution. (Well there are a lot of reasons for that, but brevity is amongst them). The platform shouldn’t be a libertarian wish list of every reform in our wildest fantasies. It should be a statement of principals, along with a roadmap to reform stating our top priorities. I’m quite happy with the way it reads now.

  15. IMO, the platform has been gutted. Some examples:

    1. War on Drugs – No support for the legalization of marijuana for non-medical use. Only a weak statement about allowing state and local government to regulate as they see fit. What is the difference between having your liberty stolen by the Feds versus the States? Since most drug crime is prosecuted at the state level anyway, this is nothing more than support for the status quo.

    2. Abortion – No position whatsoever. Once again a tepid statement supporting regulation by the state and local governments which will result in total bans in some areas, South Dakota is an example. In fact, a state’s rights approach as expressed in the LP platform is identical to the repeal Roe v. Wade and let the states ban abortion again approach that is part of the current Republican party platform.

    3. Immigration – support for a limited guest worker program combined with the deportation of illegal immigrants

    In fact, once you get past the preamble, the new platform is essentially a copy of the Republican party platform with a few additional platitudes added regarding liberty. It is clear that on the three issues I mentioned that a social conservative/Neocon agenda has been allowed a great deal of influence.

  16. Brian,

    If you have a whole bunch of people that ALL agree on EVERYTHING, you don’t have a party, you’ve got two guys philosophically making out.

    I see the libertarian party carving a centrist niche between the democrats and the republicans, with the front page of the constitution as our label.

  17. Call me crazy, but if you insist that you are the party of principle, that you don’t compromise, aren’t you kind of stuck? You either have to find a majority to agree with everything you say or whine every election when somehow no one found you appealing.

  18. Brian–I’m not sure what platform you are reading–maybe it IS the republican one, but the LP’s platform plank on drugs reads:

    III.2 The War on Drugs

    The Issue: The suffering that drug misuse has brought about is deplorable; however, drug prohibition causes more harm than drugs themselves. The so-called “War on Drugs” is in reality a war against the American people, our Constitution and the Bill of Rights. It is a grave threat to individual liberty, to domestic order and to peace in the world.

    The Principle: Individuals should have the right to use drugs, whether for medical or recreational purposes, without fear of legal reprisals, but must be held legally responsible for the consequences of their actions only if they violate others? rights.

    Solutions: Social involvement by individuals is essential to address the problem of substance misuse and abuse. Popular education and assistance groups are a better approach than prohibition, and we support the activities of private organizations as the best way to move forward on the issue.

    Transitional Action: Repeal all laws establishing criminal or civil penalties for the use of drugs. Repeal laws that infringe upon individual rights to be secure in our persons, homes, and property as protected by the Fourth Amendment. Stop the use of “anti-crime” measures such as profiling or civil asset forfeiture that reduce the standard of proof historically borne by government in prosecutions. Stop prosecuting accused non-violent drug offenders, and pardon those previously convicted.

    …Which has no relationship to what you wrote above.
    See http://www.lp.org/issues/platform_all.shtml
    for the actual platform, for the curious.

  19. There is also no mention whatsoever of deporting illegal immigrants in the LP platform, contra Brian’s assertion above. Again, the URL is in my previous comment for the curious.

  20. I still don’t see how any party (or candidate) who opposes both the War on Drugs and gun control is going to have success, anywhere in the country.

    Opposition to the WoD is sufficient to preclude success, as both Ds and Rs want more of it.

    A more obvious dichotomy is a party against both gun control and anti-gay legislation.

    In the 90’s democrats found it to be a looser for them to try to impose more of it.

    Unfortunately they failed to internalize the lesson. See the anti-gun bills filed by party leaders at Thomas.gov, or the anti-gun campaign by Democratic mayors.

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