In 2004, the Economist was the first magazine to take the hammer and tongs to Libertarian Party presidential candidate Michael Badnarik. The candidate's staff hurried to purge damaging and weird material from his web site after he, surprisingly, won. The Economist dug it up and painted Badnarik as a kook.
All of which is prelude to Lexington's column on the LP and Bob Barr.
The new Libertarian champion, Bob Barr, a former four-term Georgia congressman, is most famous for his poor judgment and sour temper… he once accidentally discharged an antique pistol at a gun show… The Libertarian Party is one of the perennial jokes of American politics… The party is also badly divided between what might be called its Ruby Ridge wing and its Reefer Madness wing.
I spent a few minutes grasping for the right word to describe this "ha, rubes!" throat-cleaning. I'll stick with "trite." Barr's reputation has undergone a surprisingly successful, and deserved, rehabbing since he was thrown out of Congress. (There was a four-year gap between his exit and his hitch-up with the LP, despite Lexington's snide assertion that Barr took the LP job as a consolation prize.) He's better known now for his anti-PATRIOT Act and pro-marijuana lobbying than he is for anything in his previous career apart from the impeachment. He did not accidentally discharge a pistol "at a gun show," but at a supporter's home (although the way the supporter tried to take the blame was, at the time, sort of pathetic). As for the LP, the survivalist/pothead framework is obviously pretty silly: for every Stan Jones, there are 20 or 30 David Nolans.
But! Lexington kids because he loves.
The libertarian pool also contains more fish than you might think. Polls suggest that 10-20% of the electorate are willing to define themselves as "libertarians" in the sense that, like this newspaper, they are "conservative" on economics and "liberal" on social issues. These soft libertarians have been strikingly willing to break party ranks, whether to support John Anderson in 1980 or Ross Perot in 1992 and 1996.
I think Anderson got more votes from Democrats than Republicans, but sure, here's some evidence that a serious and media-savvy LP can actually take chunks out of the GOP coalition.
[I]t would be wrong to underestimate how angry many small-government Republicans are with Mr Bush. Ronald Reagan once remarked that he did not leave the Democratic Party: the Democratic Party left him. That is what many libertarian sorts now feel about the Republicans.
The LP's opportunity here is that the Democrats, in the long run, don't offer solace to libertarians the way that Republicans offered solace to anti-New Deal, states' rights Democrats. There are exceptions that prove the rule, like Montana Sen. Jon Tester, but the Democrats are not interested in taking on politically unpopular (Social Security privatization) or politically difficult (rollback of the national security state) libertarian issues. A legitimate LP that drives a wedge into two-party elections, or grabs the balance of power in state legislatures (as the Constitution Party has done in Montana) might be the best chance of bringing lasting attention to those issues.