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Lessons of the Libertarian Party's Most Recent Failure:

It's hard to remember now, but back in the spring and summer, some libertarians were optimistic about Bob Barr's presidential campaign under the Libertarian Party banner. Barr's eventual failure exemplifies the flaws of the LP as a vehicle for promoting libertarianism.

As a former prominent Republican congressman, Barr was probably the best-known politician ever to run on an LP ticket. And libertarian-minded voters might have been expected to flock to his standard in a year when the Democrats nominated a highly statist candidate like Barack Obama, and the Republicans went with John McCain - a nominee whom most libertarians and pro-limited government conservatives viewed with great suspicion. Supporters hoped that Barr would win many more votes and raise much more money than previous LP nominees, and would effectively spread the libertarian message.

As Brian Doherty documents in this interesting recent article, Barr and the LP didn't even come close to meeting the high expectations. Barr only got about 500,000 votes, and his percentage of the total vote was lower than that achieved by three previous LP nominees, including the lackluster Harry Browne in 1996. Barr's fundraising results were also disappointing.

Brian's article discusses numerous possible causes of Barr's failure that were specific to his particular campaign. Some of these theories may be correct. In truth, however, Barr's failure is of a piece with the more general failure of the LP throughout its entire 36 year history. In that time, the Party has never gotten more than a miniscule share of the vote, and has failed to increase its share over time (the LP's best performance in a presidential election was back in 1980, and its performances in state and local races have also stagnated over time). The LP has also failed in its broader mission of fostering greater acceptance of libertarian ideas. There is little if any evidence that its efforts have increased public support for libertarianism to any appreciable extent. Such consistent failure over a long period of time can't be explained by the personal shortcomings of individual candidates. Barr's performance undercuts claims that the LP can do better simply by nominating a candidate with greater name recognition and more political experience than its usual selections.

For reasons that I explained in this post, the truth is that third party politics simply is not an effective way of promoting libertarianism in the "first past the post" American political system. That system makes it almost impossible for a third party to win any important elected offices. And such a party also can't be an effective tool for public education because the media isn't likely to devote much attention to a campaign with no chance of success.

Libertarians have had some genuine successes over the last 35 years. These include abolition of the draft (heavily influenced by Milton Friedman's ideas), deregulation of large portions of the economy (of which libertarians were the leading intellectual advocates), major reductions in tax rates (facilitated by libertarian economists, libertarian activists, and the legislative efforts of libertarian-leaning Republicans), the increasing popularity of school choice programs, increases in judicial protection for property rights, gun rights, and economic liberties (thanks in large part to advocacy by libertarian legal activists), and heightened respect for privacy and freedom of speech (promoted by libertarians in cooperation with other groups). Libertarian academics and intellectuals have also done much to make libertarian ideas more respectable and less marginal than they were in the 1960s and early 70s.

What all these successes have in common is that they were achieved either by working within the two major parties or by efforts outside the context of party politics altogether. The Libertarian Party didn't play a significant role in any of them.

Libertarians often emphasize that failed enterprises should be liquidated rather than kept going on artificial life support. That enables their resources to be reinvested in other, more successful firms. The point is well taken, and it applies to the Libertarian Party itself. For 35 years, the Party has consumed valuable resources, both financial and human. The money spent on the LP and the time donated by its committed activists could do a lot more to promote libertarianism if used in other ways.

In the current economic and political environment, libertarians face many difficult challenges, including a potential massive expansion of government. Now more than ever, we can't afford to fritter away our limited resources on failed political strategies. The time has come to admit that the LP is a failure and spend our precious time and money elsewhere.

Related Posts (on one page):

  1. Speech Before the Penn Libertarians:
  2. Lessons of the Libertarian Party's Most Recent Failure:
mogden (mail):
Like where?
11.20.2008 1:19am
Ilya Somin:
Like where?

I note several examples right in the post: academic research, public interest litigation, efforts to increase libertarian influence in the two major parties, etc.
11.20.2008 1:27am
Brian K (mail):
Ass a former prominent Republican congressman,

freudian slip?
11.20.2008 1:40am
Brian K (mail):
I think you are missing one important point. this election was the most polarized that i can remember and a significant number of voters seemed to only care that the other party lost. in a situation like this people aren't going to spend money or waste votes on a 3rd party that they know won't win. this explains at least some of the unusually poor vote count and fundraising by the libertarian party.
11.20.2008 1:45am
Hadur:
Another factor is that we associate third parties with wacky ideas. An idea brought to us by a third party is going to be facially crazier than an idea brought to us by somebody within a major party. As such, the LP may be only stigmatizing the ideas it stands for.
11.20.2008 1:50am
FreeRangeOyster (www):
mogden: Take advantage of the current state of flux in the Republican party and reach out to other freedom-minded conservatives to get things moving in the right direction. Turn the Republican party into a coalition of groups who agree on freedom from overreaching government, rather than a single undivided entity that doesn't make anyone happy. There's a great opportunity here for all of us to cooperate. Go in as a partner, with something useful to contribute (as the OP already demonstrated we have), and you'll find a lot more friendly receptions than you might think.
11.20.2008 1:55am
Ilya Somin:
Ass a former prominent Republican congressman,

freudian slip?


No, just a dumb typo:). Thanks for pointing it out.
11.20.2008 1:55am
Ilya Somin:
I think you are missing one important point. this election was the most polarized that i can remember and a significant number of voters seemed to only care that the other party lost. in a situation like this people aren't going to spend money or waste votes on a 3rd party that they know won't win.

Maybe. But the LP's performance this year was pretty similar to its performance in past elections that were less polarized. Moreover, this factor can't explain the LP's failures in states that weren't close in the general election and where potential LP voters didn't need to worry about possibly swinging the state to the major party they disliked the most.
11.20.2008 1:56am
Steve M in Utah:
Miscellaneous activities is a sure loser. Exerting influence within ONE of the major parties would be a lot easier than trying to convert both. So the question is, which one? The current abysmal state of the GOP would lend itself to accepting change more readily than the newfound dominance of the Democrats. Yet I certainly wouldn't underestimate the GOP's ability to continue its downward spiral; especially when confronting lost causes like abortion.
11.20.2008 1:58am
Calprof:
I voted for Barr and I feel good about it.

Did I waste my vote? How would my voting for Obama or McCain not have been a waste. Especially with me living in California. Which vote speaks the loudest?

And I have the satisfaction of knowting that I didn't vote for either the Chicago politician who won or the unprincipled bumbler he defeated.

Calprof
11.20.2008 2:00am
Bruce McCullough (mail):
Look at the present runoff for Senate in Georgia and tell me that the Libertarian Party did not have a big effect. If Martin beats Chambliss, then the Libertarian Party will have had an enormous effect.
11.20.2008 2:02am
Brian K (mail):
But the LP's performance this year was pretty similar to its performance in past elections that were less polarized.

huh? did he do about the same or did he do worse? or am i misunderstanding you and he only did worse than he was expected to do? if the latter, then the problem is not with the LP per say. their ideas are just as unpopular as ever...it was just the expectations that were too high.
11.20.2008 2:09am
Ilya Somin:
Look at the present runoff for Senate in Georgia and tell me that the Libertarian Party did not have a big effect. If Martin beats Chambliss, then the Libertarian Party will have had an enormous effect.

Maybe. But that effect does nothing to actually promote libertarianism. Indeed, it actually undermines libertarian goals by helping the Dems get a closer to a filibuster-proof majority that they will use to greatly expand government.
11.20.2008 2:10am
Cornellian (mail):
Take advantage of the current state of flux in the Republican party and reach out to other freedom-minded conservatives to get things moving in the right direction. Turn the Republican party into a coalition of groups who agree on freedom from overreaching government, rather than a single undivided entity that doesn't make anyone happy.


The party that brought you the Terry Schiavo law, Raich v. Ashcroft and McCain Feingold is not a party that will easily "agree on freedom from overreaching government."
11.20.2008 2:41am
Kevin Murphy:
In our system, the real object for a "third party" has got to be to supplant one of the main two. This can only happen when the following are true:

1. Both major parties have alienated a substantial number of voters in the center.

2. The third party attracts those alienated voters.

Condition 1 may be present, but no third party has appealed to the center since Perot's first try, and Perot was fatally flawed. His Reform Party got hijacked by Buchanan to end that attempt.

The current LP, of course, has no interest in the center, preferring the pure reaches of Utopia to practical politics.

Which is too bad, because there is room for a lib-center party. If you look at the 2-axis "Nolan" chart and the current tilt of the major parties towards the authoritarian side, you see the whole free-economy / free-society quadrant is open for someone, right down to the center and out both sides. The LP uselessly occupies the far tip.
11.20.2008 2:42am
man from mars:
Don't recent political developments doom the libertarian philosophy?

The libertarian philosophy is based (in major part) on protection of private property: on each person's freedom to control his own property.

But currently, to a large extent the "private property" each person or company controls is a function of that person's political influence.

If most "private" property was just gained through lobbying and not through production or efficiency or persuading free people, why should others protect it?

Libertarianism makes sense where property is acquired through work, through capitalism. I don't see how it makes sense where most of it comes from political pull itself.
11.20.2008 3:08am
Gabor (mail):
As long as the US election system is first-past-the-post and not a proportional system as in most parliamentary documentaries, the party system will default to two large coalitions of interests which divide the electorate very close to half. Unlike in Europe, where proportionately-elected Green or Liberal party factions can become essential to a large center-left or center-right forming a government through a formal coalition between parties, in the US, the coalition-building has to take place within one of the two large parties.

Somewhat obscured by the current discussion of Libertarianism is the fact that the near-inevitable split into social/civil rights and economic libertarians effectively took place in the 1970's, with the former settling comfortably as liberals into the Democratic Party (which has not advanced, coincidence or not, a major program of government expansion since the 1960s) and the latter, more vocal and less comfortably, in the Republican Party, with uneasy relationships to social conservatives as well as to the massive expansions of government under Reagan and Bush II. The Libertarian party proper has become a holding pen for various minor niche interests (tax deniers, gold standard promoters, capitalist naturists, gunslingers, etc.) as well as the ocassional Republican-in-exile passing through (Paul, Barr).
11.20.2008 3:21am
jdd6y:
I think we wait for the carnage to unfold and see if either party re-aligns. As far as I can tell, a 3rd party's goal is not to win but rather to get more votes than its allied party loses by in senatorial and HR elections or even states for the Presidential election.

With McCain running, who never had a chance and then sabotaged himself by sticking to his idiotic public financing promise, it didn't matter. He was going to get crushed even if he ran against Jerry Garcia.

But I believe that good ol' Saxby is now in a runoff, is he not, by virtue of the LP?

All we can be is a single issue pressure group, pretty much. But we need to be prepared for the answers because after the Democrats fail and get the USA's credit rating dropped from AAA, people might start looking for some answers other than "spend now, pay later" and "spend now, pay now."
11.20.2008 3:45am
David Warner:
Libertarian Party is like Communist Venture Capital Firm.

Kevin Murphy,

"Which is too bad, because there is room for a lib-center party. If you look at the 2-axis "Nolan" chart and the current tilt of the major parties towards the authoritarian side, you see the whole free-economy / free-society quadrant is open for someone, right down to the center and out both sides."

That someone is named Barack Obama, with his trusty sidekick Rahm Emanuel. You say perception, I say reality, it doesn't matter as long as they can hold it.
11.20.2008 3:49am
Richard L (mail):
Well, remember, if we were a country that abided by the rule of Law, then the Libertarian party would have carried Texas. Neither the Democrats, nor the Republicans met the legal requirements to be on the Texas Ballot. Unfortunately, we don't live in a country that respects the rule of law, so the Supreme Court gave a free pass to the big two.
11.20.2008 4:39am
Brett Bellmore:

In our system, the real object for a "third party" has got to be to supplant one of the main two. This can only happen when the following are true:


You forgot

3. The existing major parties have not written laws to institutionally entrench themselves.

I joined the LP not long after it's origin, but from the very start I was aware that we would have to grow very fast, and supplant one of the major parties quite soon, or else they would act against us using the power of the government.

We didn't, they did, and any real chance of supplanting one of the major parties is now legally precluded by a variety of campaign and ballot laws, and carefully rigged rules for entry into debates.

I don't bother working for the LP anymore, though they get my vote as a protest, because it is now, legally, no longer a viable option.
11.20.2008 6:55am
Brett Bellmore:
Oh, and is the LP a refuge for nutcases? Yes, but that's a consequence of it having been rendered legally futile. All the serious people left when that happened.
11.20.2008 6:56am
Hank:
Perhaps Barr's poor performance had nothing to do with the LP, but had to do with the fact that it was important to many people to end the war and the torture and the unconstitutional surveillance, and there was a clear difference between the two major candidates on those issues.
11.20.2008 8:27am
ThomasD (mail):
the fact that it was important to many people to end the war and the torture and the unconstitutional surveillance

Good luck with Clinton III; the Obama years.
11.20.2008 8:48am
Conrad Bibby (mail):
The LP will never make it as a third party. The last prez election that neither or a Republican nor a Democrat won was in 1848. The most viable third "party" since then were the Bull Moose, and that was a really just a power struggle between TR's progressives and Taft's traditional Republicans for control of the GOP.

If the LP wants to gain control, they need to take over the GOP, not try to grow an entire new party. Their candidates should run in GOP primaries as "libertarian republicans".

Success would ultimately depend on their effectiveness in selling their ideas. That's a tough enough job in itself without their taking on the additional burden of trying to nurture a new party to maturity.
11.20.2008 8:51am
PersonFromPorlock:
I doubt either the Republicans or the Democrats would welcome a libertarian movement, since both are just wings of the Party of Government. But why assume that a new party is impossible? The Perotistas came close, even while making gross tactical errors and eventually falling into a cult of personality.

The Libertarian party is a bust, but a Libertarian party, concentrating on local offices and using the effort to build up a party apparatus that could eventually move on to state or federal elections, might overcome by inches the procedural obstacles put in the way of third parties.

There are few things that look as foolish as starting a new party and immediately running (badly) a hopeless Presidential campaign which, even if it succeeded, would leave the new President without a base to govern from. But this is what third parties always seem to do, including the LP, and it probably accounts for much of their reputation as flakes.

A small-scale party would give its members experience in governing, develop an infrastructure that could go on to bigger things and expose the public to the idea of its winning elections. Potholes are humble things compared to Presidential debates, but they're a lot more real to most voters.
11.20.2008 8:52am
Davebo (mail):
Perhaps running the guy who authored the federal medical marijuana laws and voted for the Patriot Act wasn't the wisest thing to do?

The fact is, when Barr actually had a vote, he was one of the least Libertarian Republicans.
11.20.2008 9:02am
1Ler:
Entirely off topic, but would anyone be interested in a decent analysis of the eHarmony settlement? I'd love to hear an informed opinion on how the New Jersey statute actually bars the company from only offering heterosexual relationship pairings. The fact that this is a state statute and not a constitutional or federal law provision has been buried in most news reports.

Also, I'd love to hear anyone's thoughts on a "tyranny of federalism" scenario like this. It seems that if indeed New Jersey law prohibited eHarmony's business plan, and that law was the product of an actual democratic, legislative process, then the citizens of NJ have found a way to effectively impose their preferences on the services offered by a nation-wide internet-based company. The marginal costs of avoiding contact with New Jersey (and the laws of New Jersey) were apparently higher than the costs to the company of offering the relationship services to same-sex couples. I think this is a version of the minimum mileage concerns in California undermining the EPA regulations (a preemption argument).

Sorry for the departure... I just would love to hear a thoughtful analysis, and the other blogs and new sources are utterly devoid of such.
11.20.2008 9:04am
Slocum (mail):
The time has come to admit that the LP is a failure and spend our precious time and money elsewhere.

But very few of us do actually spend time or money on the LP -- so the real problem, I think, is that the LP is too often seen as the public face of libertarianism.

On the other hand, it did come in handy as a label for protest vote in a state that was a lock for Obama. I had little use for Barr or the LP, but it was the only way to signal where on the political spectrum the main parties could look for my vote next time (non-voting being pretty much impossible to interpret). Yes, it was the weakest of weak signals, but what are you gonna do?
11.20.2008 9:13am
Gino:
It only costs $25.00 per year and one vote every four years. What's to lose?
11.20.2008 9:34am
Milhouse (www):
One thing that happened to Barr was Sarah Palin. I know for a fact that I'm not the only libertarian who had planned to vote for Barr until Palin was nominated. She's not a libertarian as such, but she's closer than any major party candidate has come in years, and close enough that I could bring myself to vote for the ticket that bore her name, even with the nasty baggage in the top slot.
11.20.2008 9:35am
Andrew J. Lazarus (mail):
Given the huge budget deficits and obvious mess of the economy, claiming "credit" for the Republican tax cuts may not be a good idea.
11.20.2008 9:59am
pete (mail) (www):

There are few things that look as foolish as starting a new party and immediately running (badly) a hopeless Presidential campaign which, even if it succeeded, would leave the new President without a base to govern from. But this is what third parties always seem to do, including the LP, and it probably accounts for much of their reputation as flakes.


Yeah, it says a lot about the LP that the only presidential candidate they ran who had held previous federal office had been a Republican. There are also other ways to influence politics like ballot initiatives, the media, and lobbying and I think libertarians need to focus their energies on those areas.

Most importantly, libertarians need to focus on areas that people actually care about and not focus on getting rid of all government. The previous libertarisn candidate for president was best know refused to get a driver's license and other libertarians rail about issues that most ordinary people either don't care about or actively disagree with libertarians about. They call for a wholesale massive reduction of the federal government, which most americans are not in favor of, even if a substatnital minority or small majority theorectically wants the size to be reduced some.

Issues to focus on where libertarians have a chance to actually effect some change: drug war policy, eminent domain, civil liberties, Obama's "volunteering" initiative, school choice/vouchers, no child left behind, and the current bail outs. There are probably others out there, but those are the ones that popped into my head where there are lots of potential minor libertarian policy victories out there and some potential major victories as well.
11.20.2008 10:04am
MichaelP:
I guess it's surprising more Republican supporters don't migrate to Libertarianism, and maybe it's the "third party stigma" referred to above.

But I for one am glad: I think Libertarianism is very misguided. To me, Libertarianism represents a sort of ideological fundamentalism, built on a belief that more freedom (freer markets) is always better. Presumably, the value in free markets is that a form of natural selection, as opposed to bureaucratic management, guides the overall dynamics. I agree there is a lot of value in this.

But if we take the world as a stage for such selection among nations, we notice the most successful nations are the ones that balance competitive markets with strong and involved government. This can be taken speculatively as a lesson that the ideological extreme is ultimately less successful — societies start with weak, limited government, so why else should it only be the ones that change who grow?

And I think this makes sense theoretically as well. I think it's clear that there must be *some* role for government in maintaining standards and accountability among individuals and institutions — otherwise it's hard to imagine how the basics of our economy, which involve a large degree of trust among the various players, could operate. So if *some* role of government is necessary, how do you know what amount is better? To me, it seems all you can do is think hard, experiment, and see what happens. And in this context, the world stage and U.S. history indicate enormous benefits correlated with an expanded role of government, and thus one should be wary changing too much too quickly.
11.20.2008 10:07am
PatHMV (mail) (www):
The conservative movement famously kicked out the more extreme elements, in particular the John Birch Society, several decades ago. Too many libertarians (of both the L and the l variety) are willing to make common cause with way too many whackos in order for it to succeed as a movement. Ron Paul, darling of many libertarians, was perfectly happy to take campaign contributions from anybody, including white supremacists. You can call that "principled" all you want, but the reality is, that will never lead to political success.

The libertarian movement, if it wants to succeed, will need to forcefully and loudly disassociate itself from conspiracy theorists, anarchists, gold standard fetishists, and all of those sorts of folks if it ever wants to be politically successful.
11.20.2008 10:12am
cbyler (mail):
I notice that your list of libertarian successes omitted more nearly equal rights for minorities, women, and gays, as well as better (though not exactly *good*) protection for reproductive freedom.

It's omissions like that that lead otherwise-sympathetic people to suspect that the LP is a front for corporate shills or robber barons who don't really care about *individual* freedom, only the freedom of the biggest market players to distort the market without interference. That doesn't help libertarianism with a small *or* big L.

In any case, trying to wrestle the Republican Party away from the dominionists seems futile (even if the Republican Party's performance on the civil liberties front in the last 8 years hasn't filled you with disgust for them, voluntary association with the party of torture, warrantless wiretapping and arbitrary detention isn't going to help you rally libertarians); either hoping that they will destroy it and create an opportunity for a third party to rise or trying to influence the Democratic Party in a more libertarian direction (there's substantial Democratic sympathy for reforming or even ending the War on Some Drugs, for example, something you will never ever sell to the Repubs) seem like more fruitful alternatives.

Most of the Democratic Party's base actively wants to see the Bush intrusions on civil liberties and violations of the limits of government power reversed. The party establishment may not, but if libertarians throw their weight behind the cause too, it might make a difference in the party's decisionmaking. Again, you're certainly never going to get positive movement on that front out of the Republicans.
11.20.2008 10:14am
Gary McGath (www):
Well said. Originally the LP used the presidential campaign as a platform for spreading ideas. Now votes have become the goal, even though they can't possibly be enough to win with. It's just pointless.
11.20.2008 10:14am
cbyler (mail):

Given the huge budget deficits and obvious mess of the economy, claiming "credit" for the Republican tax cuts may not be a good idea.

Good point - and financial deregulation, too, given how quickly the deregulated financial sector blew itself up.

I think the libertarian movement is likely to schism (has already schismed?) between people who think that individual freedom and privacy are more important, and people who prioritize tax cuts and economic deregulation. Both are libertarian positions, in a sense, but they have differing constituencies. The second group of libertarians is discredited by recent events, so even if you want to keep them, don't let them drive right now.

But you can probably guess by my longer post above that I belong to the first group, so maybe that's partly a self-interested perception. :)
11.20.2008 10:19am
pete (mail) (www):

And I think this makes sense theoretically as well. I think it's clear that there must be *some* role for government in maintaining standards and accountability among individuals and institutions — otherwise it's hard to imagine how the basics of our economy, which involve a large degree of trust among the various players, could operate. So if *some* role of government is necessary, how do you know what amount is better?


Also for a lot state and local services and like roads, libraries, fire protection, state funded higher education, police, building codes, zoning, etc. lots, if not teh vast majority of, americans are basically satisfied with the government they get right now. Sure there can be imporvements, but getting rid of or privitzing the service would not satisfy voters more than they are now. Many libertarisn policies like privitizing roads or eliminating all public schools will never fly since the current way works well enough as is. (I say this as an employee of a local government who is sympathetic to a lot of libertarian ideas and who occasionally votes libertarian)
11.20.2008 10:24am
1Ler:
Cbyler, I think the fact that you and I both characterize ourselves as "libertarians" illustrates the enormous difficulties of crafting a meaningful political platform for a "libertarian (little "l") party." (You sound like a solid group one-er, and I think I'm a pretty strong group two-er who supports civil liberties and rights, but from a very different perspective.) I think the most recent history lesson illustrates that the most effective approach is to take on one or two issues at a time. Personally, I think a movement toward privatizing schools (vouchers, charters, however you want to do it) is a great cause that could gain widespread support with some adept political maneuvering. The plus is that it's one issue that most anyone characterizing himself as "libertarian" would agree with (even if it's not a priority). But it's entirely possibly that I'm simply casting my view of the world on a diverse group of people who think very differently...
11.20.2008 10:39am
Melancton Smith:
The effect of a viable third party is to pull the main party it is spintered from toward their agenda.

Since we have a two-party system, we will always have these 'close' elections where 55 to 45 is a 'landslide'.

A party achieves 'victory' by positioning itself to acquire more of the market share.

When a party moves too far away from a sub-group, that sub-group splinters off into a third party and if it shows enough muscle the main party has to move back towards it to draw away its voters.

This alignment is based upon the left-right tug-of-war that most perceive our political process being. I chuckle inwardly when I hear a commentator claiming that we are a center-right country. I agree, but the problem is that what is considered 'center' has been shifting leftward for decades.

What has gotten lost is the other axis: statism versus individualsim. Both major parties are heavily statist.

Regarding LP and Barr...I know that many 'gun nuts' that might have voted LP were turned off by Barr. He is considered to be as distasteful as McCain to this sub-group.
11.20.2008 10:42am
Ben S. (mail):

Take advantage of the current state of flux in the Republican party and reach out to other freedom-minded conservatives to get things moving in the right direction. Turn the Republican party into a coalition of groups who agree on freedom from overreaching government, rather than a single undivided entity that doesn't make anyone happy. There's a great opportunity here for all of us to cooperate. Go in as a partner, with something useful to contribute (as the OP already demonstrated we have), and you'll find a lot more friendly receptions than you might think.


Agreed. As others have pointed out, running a successful third party in American politics is hard to do. The irony here is that libertarian ideals more closely match those of the Republican part in, for example, the Buckley days. Thus, it is not so much that the flux in politics should force the Republicans to embrace something new, but rather to get back to what they were.

Let's face facts: A huge albatross for the Republican party is the fact that it appears to be comprised entirely of bitter, old-fashioned, white, uneducated, Bible-thumping folk who want everyone to see the world as they do. That may be true for some, and definitely is a fair criticism of the Bush-style conservatives, but I think it fails to describe a huge proportion of people who identify themselves as "conservatives."

Republicans need to demonstrate that Democrats do not have a monopoly on intelligence and sophistication, which is what they would have you believe and the general public takes to be true. And how could they not, when Democrats put forth candidates who are articulate, charismatic, and have an Ivy League pedigree against simpletons like Sarah Palin.

From my brief time in state government, I was shocked at how many young, intelligent, energetic, informed, and "hip" colleagues held libertarian ideals. I think that the essential premise of the libertarian concept--smaller, extremely limited central government; true constitutional interpretation in the courts; larger roles for state and local government--are ideals that would both (1) attract a plethora of young, sophisticated people to the Republican party, and (2) would have broader appeal to the general public at large.

If Republicans do not accept this fact and embrace libertarianism, liberals will have unfettered access to the federal government for decades to come.
11.20.2008 10:46am
Al Maviva:
It's probably hard to believe for a lot of Libertarian Party types, but it doesn't matter how good your candidate is, if you nominate a guy who has a reputation for being a contrarian jackass, you may not garner a lot of votes. Libertarian principles will never achieve an absolute win, because libertarianism as espoused by most self-described libertarians-without-qualification (e.g. conservative/libertarian, Chicago-school libertarian, Hayekian) is about an absolutist philosophy, and life doesn't conform really well to ideologies. You'd think that libertarians, of all people, would understand that radical re-ordering of society to fit a particular ideology usually doesn't work, and thankfully is rarely popular. As appealing as Murray Rothbard and Ayn Rand may be, libertarian-informed conservatism (Chicago School, Hayek, the leave-me-alone Republican conservatives) is the only way it actually seems to sell to anything resembling electoral majorities.

Until a lot of committed libertarians become pacifists in the circular firing squad of the center right and work within the confines of the Republican Party, the choice for anti-statists is going to be between the relatively popular bluenosers, and the spectacularly unpopular blue faces. *Neither* option is very attractive, but at least the bluenosers have a chance to win.
11.20.2008 11:17am
stoshy (mail):
Davebo (9:02 a.m.) had it absolutely right: Bob Barr got half the votes of the LP's previous presidential candidate because he wasn't a real libertarian at all. He was as much of a statist as Teddy Kennedy, just from the right instead of the left. He couldn't even bring himself to say that he would decriminalize marijuana — only that he would consider it, which is no commitment at all, this while most L's were for full-blown legalization of almost all drugs. Of course he didn't get many L votes. Mirabile dictu
11.20.2008 11:18am
MisterBigTop:
"The party that brought you the Terry Schiavo law, Raich v. Ashcroft and McCain Feingold is not a party that will easily "agree on freedom from overreaching government."

Nice try, Cornellian, but you're foolling no one. You're right about Schiavo, but the others were supported in the political world and especially in the courts by leftists and Democrats, not conservatives or Republicans.
11.20.2008 11:22am
MisterBigTop:
Before you reply saying eeevil Ashcroft or McCain, realize that I'm talking about republican politicians and justices in general, not anyone specific. Your comment was misleading to the extreme.


Also, gun rights, affirmative action, and a host of other issues. The leftists don't give a shit about rights, just government power in the name of "equality". I have no doubt that Obama will appoint justices just like the leftists on the Court.
11.20.2008 11:26am
MisterBigTop:
To suggest that the Democrats should be the home for libertarians is laughable.

The Democrats support big government in almost every area. No, they don't want to make your sex life a crime, but they do want to force people to think the "right" way. No, they don't support the War in Iraq, but just wait until it's a country they don't like. They've already demonstrated that they're complete hypocrites on that issue.

Enjoy four (or more) years of big government leftism.
11.20.2008 11:39am
Elliot123 (mail):
The place for the Libertarians is the Repiblican primaries, not the general election as Libertarian candidates. In one, they have an excellent chance of winning. In the other they have none.
11.20.2008 11:42am
Eric Dondero (mail) (www):
Barr didn't "fail." He got 512,000 votes. That's the 2nd highest ever for the Libertarian Party since 1972. Not too bad.

But beyond that, the important factor that is being missed is Sarah Palin.

Barr was polling 6% all summer long. And then dissaster struck. McCain picked libertarian Sarah Palin as his running mate.

Now what mainstream libertarian in their right mind would want to vote for Barr, when they had a chance to get a genuine libertarian on a major party ticket in the office of Vice-President of the United States?

You could say that Barr's campaign was the most successful Libertarian effort of all time. For, if Barr hadn't been polling 6%, McCain would have had no incentive to put a libertarian on the ticket.
11.20.2008 11:57am
trad and anon:
I wouldn't call "abolition of the draft" a "libertarian success story." The U.S. stopped drafting people because the draft was politically very unpopular among voters who were opposed to being shot at. We don't draft people now because we haven't had a need for draftees significant enough to overcome the draft's unpopularity.

Moreover, draft registration was re-instituted in 1980, and there have been no serious attempts to end it.
11.20.2008 11:57am
gerbilsbite:
The LP's biggest problem to my mind has been one of scope versus capacity: there is simply no base upon which to build a national party. And the solution to that is simple: stop trying to build a national party.

In some of the semi-competitive pockets around the country (mostly state house and senate districts) there is a phenomenon that the LP should closely watch and learn from: strategic party-switching among incumbents. Normally, an incumbent with ties to one party will stay there for life, but sometimes either the constituency they represent or the party they've been a member of will move in a different direction that can't be easily reconciled with past statements and votes. So they start fresh. Sometimes it costs them their elections, sometimes not. What it almost always does is provide a short-term boost to their new party, either by increasing their proportion in a legislative body or improving their chances of assembling a coalition of voters capable of winning the seat in play.

The LP's big problem is that they're in an era where national recognition is incredibly expensive and difficult to attain. What they should be doing is looking for disgruntled mayors, state legislators, even city council members--people with pre-existing constituencies and donor bases, with decent reputations--and convince them to join the LP with the promise that the focus of LP resources will be on their campaigns. Barr raised over $1.2 million for his run, which is a pittance for a national campaign, but is more than enough for a number of well-targeted coordinated campaigns to augment down-ballot candidates with any established credibility (such as incumbency).

The LP is trying to build a skyscraper without a foundation, using only a spoon. They need to shift their focus downward, and they need to get ready for 20-30 years of foundational construction before they have a shot at hitting 5-10% nationally.
11.20.2008 11:57am
Cicero (mail):
Great discussion, as it raises issues I've been thinking a lot about lately.

I am libertarian but generally vote Republican because that party generally matches my economics and philosophy.

The two political parties in the U.S. are naturally "big tents" and must attract a wide spectrum of voters. Therefore, each espouses positions that some voters don't particularly want and fails to espouse all the positions that some groups of voters--like libertarians--want.
As a result, the U.S. political parties are generally in the center and their platforms a mishmash of positions.

I believe the original post had it right: the Libertarian Party is never going to be anything but a nuisance. The Democrats are NOT anywhere near libertarian economically and it would be much more difficult to move that party toward a more libertarian position economically than the GOP. I am also firmly in the second group that cbyler referenced. So I will stay in the GOP and work to bring it closer to where we want it to be.
11.20.2008 11:59am
arbitraryaardvark (mail) (www):
"The time has come to admit that the LP is a failure and spend our precious time and money elsewhere." The LP is a focal point for people with a set of shared interests. There is no comparable "elsewhere." When I think of the close friends I've made through my local LP chapters, I can't think of how else I would have met them. I'll cheerfully admit the LP is a marginal group,and I've never seen it as a good place to invest my limited dollars, but the time I spend there is repaid with entertainment value.
11.20.2008 12:01pm
darelf:

Yet I certainly wouldn't underestimate the GOP's ability to continue its downward spiral; especially when confronting lost causes like abortion.


Maybe it goes without saying, but it's things like this that form the foundation of the failure of libertarianism in general.
11.20.2008 12:03pm
trad and anon (mail):
You could say that Barr's campaign was the most successful Libertarian effort of all time. For, if Barr hadn't been polling 6%, McCain would have had no incentive to put a libertarian on the ticket.
Palin was on the ticket to appeal to white evangelical Protestants, not to appeal to libertarians. White evangelical Protestants are a large part of the GOP base and they've never been fans of John "agents of intolerance" McCain. They wouldn't have voted for Obama, but they could easily have stayed home in large numbers, and likely would have.
11.20.2008 12:05pm
boose:
Although I understand, I disagree. Simply having the presence of a LP candidate on the ballot helps remind people that there are other choices out there.
11.20.2008 12:34pm
Al Maviva:
Palin was on the ticket to appeal to white evangelical Protestants,

I think you're very badly misreading Palin's appeal. Her appeal is much more directed toward lunchpail Republicans than to evangelicals. Joe Wuerzelbacher is her guy along with the soccer moms, not Rick Warren. The Republicans can heap all sorts of condescending crap on evangelicals and they will mostly still vote Republican. That isn't true of the "Reagan democrat" blue collar voters, many of whom will go for a moderately liberal democrat. Palin was a culture pick, and while she's amenable to the evangelicals, it's the people with pickups and tradesman vans who are her primary constituency. The Roseane people.
11.20.2008 12:56pm
Waldensian (mail):

Bob Barr got half the votes of the LP's previous presidential candidate because he wasn't a real libertarian at all.

While I think that's likely true, it also proves the one enduring fact about libertarianism: it is a belief system composed primarily of.... people who argue that others aren't sufficiently on board with the belief system.
11.20.2008 1:07pm
Northeastern2L:
I don't know what's funnier:

1) the notion that Palin is a libertarian (of course, since Ron Paul is considered a libertarian simply because he favors a conservative agenda being implemented at the state level, as opposed to the federal level, then I suppose "libertarian" as a definition doesn't mean much).

2) the notion that Republicans and conservatives don't want to force people to think the "right way"-- except when it comes to religion, drugs, sexuality, public education, etc.

3) the notion that conservatives don't support Raich, despite the fact that it was a Republican administration which forced the issue and trampled the supposedly revered "states' rights" in the process and the fact that the patron saint of conservative jurisprudence on the Supreme Court had no qualms about going along with it.

But, on the plus side, at least this thread proves that most self-described libertarians care little about any freedom except economic freedom.
11.20.2008 1:07pm
Melancton Smith:
But McCain needed more from the Evangelicals than votes. He needed money and troops on the ground. You need Moderate voters to win, but they don't necessarily contribute to the campaign.

Troops on the ground getting out the vote is vital. Single issue voters and party extremists are the kind of folks that do that.
11.20.2008 1:12pm
Sigivald (mail):
As an Oregonian, any vote I made for anyone who wasn't Barack Obama was going to be purely symbolic.

I didn't vote for Bob Barr, because I can't stand the LP's foreign policy stance.

As long as they remain isolationist, they're not getting my vote - and I've voted LP before.

Northeastern: Evidence of Republicans actually trying to force people to think a certain way? Certainly, as non-libertarians in government, they've tried to force people to act (or not-act) in certain ways - but I've never noticed any mind-control activities.

(Then again, would I if they were controlling my mind?)

Maybe if you'd stop conflating "Republican" and "conservative" you'd have better luck convincing people; I've noticed that the Republican party isn't especially "conservative", and so have lots of self-described "conservatives".

(Also, if conservatives support Raich, how do you explain the late William F. Buckley? Was he not a conservative? Or was that long-term support for legalized dope just a front?)
11.20.2008 1:17pm
Cornellian (mail):
"The party that brought you the Terry Schiavo law, Raich v. Ashcroft and McCain Feingold is not a party that will easily "agree on freedom from overreaching government."

Nice try, Cornellian, but you're foolling no one. You're right about Schiavo, but the others were supported in the political world and especially in the courts by leftists and Democrats, not conservatives or Republicans.


The "Ashcroft" in Raich v. Ashcroft is former attorney general John Ashcroft. George W. Bush signed McCain Feingold into law when he could have vetoed it. I suppose one might argue whether either of them is a conservative, but presumably no one can dispute that they are Republicans. Scalia voted to uphold the law at issue in Raich v. Ashcroft. Is he not a conservative?
11.20.2008 1:19pm
Fub:
PatHMV wrote at 11.20.2008 10:12am:
The libertarian movement, if it wants to succeed, will need to forcefully and loudly disassociate itself from conspiracy theorists, anarchists, gold standard fetishists, and all of those sorts of folks if it ever wants to be politically successful.
Brett Bellmore wrote at 11.20.2008 6:55am:
I joined the LP not long after it's origin, but from the very start I was aware that we would have to grow very fast, and supplant one of the major parties quite soon, or else they would act against us using the power of the government.

We didn't, they did, and any real chance of supplanting one of the major parties is now legally precluded by a variety of campaign and ballot laws, and carefully rigged rules for entry into debates.
Al Maviva wrote at 11.20.2008 11:17am:
Until a lot of committed libertarians become pacifists in the circular firing squad of the center right and work within the confines of the Republican Party, the choice for anti-statists is going to be between the relatively popular bluenosers, and the spectacularly unpopular blue faces. *Neither* option is very attractive, but at least the bluenosers have a chance to win.
Kudos for good observation and analysis in the general direction of all three above.

Been there at the local level, done that, wore out some small t-shirts decades ago. Over the years I saw a few Libertarians win local elections to low profile offices, local boards, community college districts, and the like. There were also some quiet successes influencing and encouraging major party legislators in a libertarian direction on some issues.

In most cases, the state level party tended to ignore such quiet successes internally, and let too many loudmouthed wingnuts become the party's public face -- not every time, but most of the time. Actually getting elected to public office seemed to become a cardinal sin, for which punishment was shunning.

A few practical and patient souls still toil diligently in local trenches, but major party emnity isn't even necessary to keep the Libertarian Party marginal. It does an excellent job on its own.
11.20.2008 1:23pm
Northeastern2L:

(Also, if conservatives support Raich, how do you explain the late William F. Buckley? Was he not a conservative? Or was that long-term support for legalized dope just a front?)


How do you explain Scalia? Is he not a conservative? Or is his conservatism just a front?
11.20.2008 1:26pm
Alexia:
Lifelong libertarian leaning Republican here. Working within the GOP is indeed the best chance to reform the GOP, but the relationship doesn't seem to work. The libertarians seemingly won't vote for anybody who ever supported anything they disagree with (war, Patriot Act, Tax hikes...) and the neocons in the GOP are absolutely not interested in Libertarian concepts.

However, I do think that having them on the ballot can give people the chance to send a message, and reminds people that there are other choices out there.

Abolishing the LP would only give the GOP a message that they can continue to ignore the conservatives.
11.20.2008 1:28pm
NowMDJD (mail):

Look at the present runoff for Senate in Georgia and tell me that the Libertarian Party did not have a big effect. If Martin beats Chambliss, then the Libertarian Party will have had an enormous effect.

Yeah, but the effect wil be to shaft libertarian goals.
11.20.2008 1:39pm
sean s. (mail):
To put Barr's failure into a different perspective, Eugene Debs, running as a Socialist got 900,000 votes in 1912 when our population was much, much smaller.

And Debs was in prison at the time.
11.20.2008 2:08pm
Milhouse (www):
How do you explain Scalia? Is he not a conservative?
Scalia's certainly a conservative, and if there had been four other votes to overturn Wickard and all its progeny I'm sure he'd have joined them, but he was damned if he was going to let it stand but carve out this one exception, this one case where the enumerated powers clause would mean something, just because this one time it suited liberals to limit Congress's powers.
11.20.2008 2:34pm
Cornellian (mail):
In other words, Milhouse, with Scalia it's not about originalism, it's about scoring political points.
11.20.2008 3:05pm
Thorley Winston (mail) (www):
Yet I certainly wouldn't underestimate the GOP's ability to continue its downward spiral; especially when confronting lost causes like abortion.


Maybe it goes without saying, but it's things like this that form the foundation of the failure of libertarianism in general.


I think you're right for two reasons: (1) there are more people who will vote (and more importantly work for a candidate) because of the pro-life issue than there are pro-choice libertarians and (2) my experience has been that when you go outside academia and the internet, people who are pro-life are generally more likely to support limited government and free markets than people who support abortion rights.
11.20.2008 3:06pm
John M. Perkins (mail):
Bruce McCullough wrote:

Look at the present runoff for Senate in Georgia and tell me that the Libertarian Party did not have a big effect. If Martin beats Chambliss, then the Libertarian Party will have had an enormous effect.


Ilya Somin answered:

Maybe. But that effect does nothing to actually promote libertarianism. Indeed, it actually undermines libertarian goals by helping the Dems get a closer to a filibuster-proof majority that they will use to greatly expand government.


A Martin victory over Chambliss would be a strong promotion of libertarianism. Six years later the Republicans knowing that Buckley cost Chambliss the election should look for a candidate that is more like Buckley/Barr.

Non-Partisan Leaguers and Farmer-Labor Party pulled the Democrats to their interests with their electoral inroads. The Progressives, a splinter group from the Republicans slid over to the Democrats. Henry Wallace's southern campaign inticed Truman to integrate the Army, and created a split in the southern Democrats empowering the liberal wing. The right wing voted for the American Party George Wallace, then promptly overwhelmed the miniscule southern Republican party.

If you are only focused on the current election, then the future isn't worth much interest.

Beside the exaggerated phrase "filibuster-proof majority that they will use to greatly expand government" is whiny enough to merit a "D" if written in political science paper. Why will there be filibusters? It takes a moral issue, and expanding government isn't the straw that will convince a Republican to filibuster. Maybe stem cell research, which will reduce government restrictions of science. Maybe a judicial appointment of a nominee who approves Roe v. Wade, which would be neutral and advocates reducing governmental criminalization? Maybe shorter Judiciary Committee nomination hearings because the minority loses the filibuster threat, not a bad thing which get nomination hearings to a more even pre-Bork keel.

Yes, the Obama/Democratic Congress will increase government. But it's a sophmoric leap to fear the difference of 59 senators versus 60.
11.20.2008 3:12pm
David Chesler (mail) (www):
Barr wasn't the yellow dog I would have preferred, but there was no reason not to vote for the LP candidate in a guaranteed true-blue state, so I did. I would have had to hold my nose a lot more to vote for Obama or McCain.

I heard a lot from my state LP, and from our favorite son contender for LP nomination, but virtually nothing from the Barr campaign. The only lawn sign I saw was the one I bought from the campaign in the final weeks; the bumper stickers never came.

(I usually like my state LP, but we had a candidate for US Senate who ought to have been able to get a bigger piece of the usual 35% anybody-but-the-incumbent vote, as did the LP candidate for US Senate in 2000, who got a vote total very close to that of the Republican, and also more than 75% of what Browne got nationally that year.)
11.20.2008 3:36pm
Thorley Winston (mail) (www):
Lifelong libertarian leaning Republican here. Working within the GOP is indeed the best chance to reform the GOP, but the relationship doesn't seem to work. The libertarians seemingly won't vote for anybody who ever supported anything they disagree with (war, Patriot Act, Tax hikes...) and the neocons in the GOP are absolutely not interested in Libertarian concepts.


I really don't want to be That Guy Who Tries To Highjack Political Threads By Demanding "Define What This Term You Just Used Means" but I am curious, what exactly do you mean by "neocon"? I see that term thrown about but who is and is not a "neocon" seems to change with whoever is using the term and when they're using it.

From what I can tell, for example, Senator McCain was at one time considered the poster child of neoconservatism in 2000 when he first ran for President but he's also a guy who voted against Medicare Part D, supports personal retirement accounts for Social Security, is unabashedly pro free trade and willing to argue the case during an economic turndown, campaigned against ethanol subsidies in Iowa and bailing out the auto industry in Michigan, and had probably the best free market health care reform proposal that any major party candidate has ever supported. Those are all pretty substantive policy positions and ones that most libertarians support.

But I do agree with your point about single issue libertarians although my distaste is greatest for the ones who pick a fringe issue like drug relegalization as their excuse for note voting for a particular candidate. It shows a misplaced set of priorities IMO.
11.20.2008 4:12pm
EIDE_Interface (mail):
Between the Republicans and the Democrats we are in a totalitarian country. Republicans control every aspect of our social freedoms and the Democrat eliminate all freedom of business and thought. What a wonderful country we've turned out.
11.20.2008 4:15pm
Allan Walstad (mail):
Well, I see I'm way late on this thread, but a couple of comments:

First, if this blog is any indication, there are an awful lot of libertarians out there who manage to talk themselves out of voting Libertarian at crunch-time. If Barr had cracked a million, it would have been more of a news story, drawing attention to libertarian ideas and helping more folks who are dissatisfied with the Demopublicans to discover that their preferences actually have an adjective: libertarian.

Second, I don't think the LP is all that much of a drain on resources that might go into other avenues for promoting libertarianism. It seems unlikely, in particular, that just because Barr had a megabuck to spend, the same money would have been forthcoming for relatively local or regional campaigns or various other organizations.

Third, I like the idea of a variety of pro-liberty organizations doing different things to try to advance the cause. The LP has a role to play. Getting your slate on the ballot in nearly all states advertises that there is an alternative, one which is sufficiently organized to accomplish something difficult nation-wide. Even without getting into THE debates, Barr did have some venues, such as a third-party debate I saw, to get the viewpoint across.

I wonder if it wouldn't be more effective for LP candidates to frankly advertise their candidacy as pedagogical, rather than starting out each campaign with absurd claims about how they are going to win this time, when they've seldom or never broken 1% at the national level. Barr had political credentials, but he wasn't a very appealing candidate and ultimately not much of a principled libertarian. And he did have this off-putting arrogant attitude, as when he suggested in an interview that he'd do well because, before him, the LP hadn't had very good candidates. LP presidential candidates might do well to de-emphasize a platform of to-dos and spend more time on probing critiques of the assumptions underlying big government.
11.20.2008 4:25pm
Allan Walstad (mail):
Thorley Winston:

Re McCain: Mc-Feingold plus "Make it 100" (more years in Iraq) kind of sealed the no-deal for me.

Fred Barnes is my example of a quintessential neocon: a big-government warhawk. Whatever Bush was when he ran in 2000, that's what he became in short order.
11.20.2008 4:31pm
pete (mail) (www):

Between the Republicans and the Democrats we are in a totalitarian country. Republicans control every aspect of our social freedoms and the Democrat eliminate all freedom of business and thought. What a wonderful country we've turned out.


Yet somehow you manage to get past the thought police and post on this website.
11.20.2008 4:34pm
Mr. X (www):
The false premise of Prof. Somin's argument is that one must choose between supporting the Libertarian Party and supporting other organizations in the freedom movement. There is nothing wrong with doing both. Maintaining the LP as a political party with widespread ballot access reminds the old parties that there is an alternative, should they screw up enough to alienate their voters.

Also, I've seen no sign that the Republican party can be shifted from within. The Ron Paul supporters attempted to do so and were promptly snubbed by the old guard. Until there are signs that the Republicans are interested in any sort of political principles (other than a will to power), there's no good reason to waste resources on them.
11.20.2008 5:10pm
Mr. X (www):
The time has come to admit that the LP is a failure and spend our precious time and money elsewhere.


What's this use of the word "our"? Have you been spending your time and money within the Libertarian Party? If so, it has not been apparent during the years that you have continued to argue that the Libertarian Party is a waste.

I understand that you are trying to persuade Libertarians to be Republicans, but it would help to be honest and not try to paint yourself as a non-Republican when doing it.
11.20.2008 5:16pm
Can't find a good name:
Eric Dondero said above that Barr was polling at 6% before Palin became the Republican VP selection. However, I can't find even one poll that shows Barr at more than 3% among the polls at Polling Report.
11.20.2008 5:59pm
Arkady:

Libertarians have had some genuine successes over the last 35 years. These include abolition of the draft (heavily influenced by Milton Friedman's ideas)


I think the Vietnam-era draft had far more to do with the abolition of the draft than Friedman's ideas.
11.20.2008 6:35pm
tsotha:
A Martin victory over Chambliss would be a strong promotion of libertarianism. Six years later the Republicans knowing that Buckley cost Chambliss the election should look for a candidate that is more like Buckley/Barr.

Maybe. Or maybe they would decide dogmatic, unreliable libertarian-types aren't worth bothering with at all and move left to pick up more soccer moms in the squishy middle.

I know a great many people who claim to be libertarians. It's easy to do so because it doesn't mean anything beyond a formless distrust of the state. When you get down to brass tacks in terms of policies it's almost always "cut my taxes and your services". I realize there are exceptions to this among the political junkies, but in policy terms "libertarian" covers so much it's a worthless label. That's how you end up with Bob Barr as your candidate for president.

The statists won when they got control of the education system. Kids graduate from high school these days with no understanding of how the government was originally supposed to work, and how it got to be what it is today. Without a grounding in necessary history, you will not get them to "grok" a political philosophy that isn't immediately facile. There are poor people? Give them money. Someone ruins his life with drugs? Make drugs illegal. Security problems? More cops. Companies going under? Bailouts to save jobs.

Personally I'd like to see an actual federal republic given another try. If we could get the federal government pared down to providing for the common defense and resolving disputes between states we would all stand a much better chance of having access to a government that seems reasonable to us. The armed-up bible thumpers could have their theocracy and the gun-grabbing hippies could have their drug-addled Gomorrah. Why was it, exactly, we had to nationalize everything?
11.20.2008 6:51pm
Arkady:

Why was it, exactly, we had to nationalize everything?


I think it began with the Civil War. I recall Ken Burns saying, in his documentary on the war, that, afterwards, people stopped saying 'the United States are' and began saying 'the United States is'. Lee turned down the command of the Union Army and assumed command of the Army of Northern Virginia because, he said, my country needs me. Today, nobody would say such a thing about the state they live in. We have a national consciousness. And because we think of ourselves as Americans first, and Texans, Alaskans, what have you, second, we are predisposed, as a people, to solicit national solutions. Libertarians and conservatives will not like it, but I think that's the case. When things go very sour, as they are going now, we don't look to our state and local governments for relief--we demand it of our national, our American, government.
11.20.2008 7:30pm
Glenn W. Bowen (mail):
Barr negligently discharged a pistol in a room full of people about eight years ago- classic: didn't check and clear the weapon, pulled the trigger.
11.20.2008 8:00pm
agesilaus:
The libertarians as now setup have no chance to ever succeed. They draw from three groups. A small core group that is both economically very conservative and socially radical. Their other two possible sources of votes are the classic economic conservatives from the Rebublicans, these people are mostly also socially conservative to one degree or another. These look for limited governement and low taxes. And the radical liberals who favor drug legalization, free immigration and other social radical policies.

The first group detests the second, and the second group hates the first. And there seems to be no grounds for compromise. Thus even ignoring the difficulties that a third party faces this coalition is DOA.
11.20.2008 8:05pm
Mike S.:
Perhaps the problem is neither the candidates, nor the structural impediments, real though they are, to 3rd parties, but the ideas being peddled. It is certainly true that many libertarian views on particular issues are popular. And a majority of Americans tend to be skeptical of government. But that is a far cry from believing that severe limits on the government should be the dominant principal of politics, overriding everything else, including common sense. That seems to be the view of the Libertarian Party.

One need only look at the platform of the Libertarian Party. It implies quite clearly that such things as: preventing private businessmen from discriminating based on race, building roads, providing water and sewage systems, enforcing antipollution laws, food and drug safety measures, and prohibiting incest are not legitimate government functions. It explicitly calls for eliminating social security, legalizing all drugs including both narcotics and snake oil, and ending all control of privately owned weaponry, explicitly including automatic weapons and, I suppose, tanks and warplanes as well. It seems to call for the end of rules preventing convicted felons and insane people from owning guns. Do you really think these are popular ideas?
11.20.2008 9:29pm
Allan Walstad (mail):
I

It seems to call for the end of rules preventing convicted felons and insane people from owning guns.

This particular thread isn't a debate about libertarianism per se, but let me just single out the above quote from Mike S as an example of the long pedagogical path libertarians still face. How often people simply assume that government interventions actually succeed in achieving their ostensibly desired goals. Do they? Do they provide net benefits or do a variety of visible and hidden costs exceed the benefits, if any?

If everyone got their clothing at government garment centers, no doubt many would assume that people must otherwise go naked.
11.20.2008 9:55pm
PQuincy1:
Interesting range of views here, especially what a 'libertarian' is.

Seems to me that while many American citizens have certain libertarian impulses, very few are actually systematic or coherent about such impulses.

Various defenses of property and certain rights -- say, firearm possession -- are libertarian impulses found among conservatives and Republicans. Various defenses of privacy (family and sexual matters, control of one's own body) and certain rights -- say, consumption of psychoactive substances -- are libertarian impulses found among liberals and Democrats.

And across the spectrum, you will find decent people opposing arbitrary imprisonment, undermining of habeas corpus rights, and similar phenomena.

But there's not enough in common among these impulses, it seems to me, to build much of a libertarian movement (nor do I think that such a movement's success would lead to prudent or to successful policies, either, n.b.).

Most Americans are libertarian about some things, but those things vary, and very few Americans are bothered that they are statist or authoritarian about other things. For every conservative denouncing liberal 'thought control' (where?), there's a liberal denouncing conservative efforts to control his or her sex life (not really very successful, lately, esp. since Lawrence). But those same people are happy to be statist on other issues, and as long as that's true, there won't be a Libertarian party of any significance. Good thing, though I'm glad there are libertarian thinkers.
11.20.2008 11:37pm
Charles Broadway (mail) (www):
If the LP was to reform itself as a group within the GOP and throw its weight behind a liberty minded Republican, it would have a gigantic impact. Hardcore Libertarians would balk at this idea, but this is essentially what they did with the Bob Barr campaign except Barr did not run with an "R" beside his name. Meanwhile, you have Ron Paul's Campaign for Liberty and the Republican Liberty Caucus pursuing this strategy and having a far larger impact.

The LP is dead. It should do us a favor and quit giving the rest of us getting things done a bad name.
11.21.2008 3:07am
Joe Tauke (mail):
Wow, talk about in-the-box thinking.

You know what's a better idea? Instead of completely giving up and hoping to occasionally nudge the Democrats or Republicans slightly closer to what we want, why not redirect the efforts that currently go into the Libertarian Party into something that might solve the systemic problem?
11.21.2008 3:54am
MSchmahl:
No third party will ever be more than a mere annoyance in US politics until one of the following conditions holds:

1. One of the two major parties has a complete meltdown.
2. Election laws are reformed in a way that does not inherently disadvantage third parties.

In respect of 2. above, I believe that approval voting is superior to instant-runoff voting, but any Condorcet method is superior to any non-Condorcet method. As a practical matter, anyone who is serious about reforming our election methods should endorse approval voting.

American politics remind me of the puzzle of the two ice-cream vendors along a beach. The free-market solution is for both vendors to be situated at the center of the beach, plus or minus epsilon. Each vendor thus gets half of the market share. This is why there seems to be so little ideological difference between the two major parties. Like Pepsi and Coca-Cola, their best interest lies in being as unobjectionable, and as similar as possible to their rival.

Even if we believe that political ideals fall on more than one dimension, all successful parties must lie as close as possible to the center-of-mass of the electorate.
11.21.2008 4:37am
Mike S.:
Allan Walstad:

Do you really think that I don't know that convicted felons can still get guns despite the law? Or that anyone doesn't know that?
Do you not know that when an ex-felon returns to a life of crime that possession is often the easiest charge to prove?


Frankly, I suspect that most of the votes Barr got were protest votes, and that far fewer than 500,000 people can be found who would really endorse the Libertarian party Platform
11.21.2008 7:27am
Mr. X (www):
Meanwhile, you have Ron Paul's Campaign for Liberty and the Republican Liberty Caucus pursuing this strategy and having a far larger impact.


You have evidence for this impact? An RLC or Campaign for Liberty person in party leadership perhaps? Or maybe a policy decision made because of their pressure?

The experience of the RLC and Campaign for Liberty teaches the futility of trying to change the GOP from within, not the futility of changing them from without.
11.21.2008 9:37am
meagain (mail):
Not sure if anyone brought up this site, but they sure seem to doing something about getting liberty into the discussion - http://www.fff.org/.
11.21.2008 12:07pm
WPM94 (mail):
The Republican Party is bankrupt. When they have control of any of the apparatus of government, they pretend they can advance freedom by removing the restraints on greed and fraud that good management in private industry would simply call sound operating procedures. In the name of deregulation, they have turned off the traffic lights, covered over the speed limit signs and even removed the barriers at the end of the road overlooking the cliff to tell us when they highway ends. On the economy, they have failed to show leadership, enforce sound laws, or express moral outrage when their friends and contributors were using the financial, banking, credit, housing, etc markets to profit out of paper rather than production.

Unfortunately, people think the free market failed. Perhaps libertarians can provide some understanding that a truly free market would protect them from corporate excesses and that corporate welfare is a product of both Republican and Democratics.

At the same time, we could applaud and work with those Democrats who emphasize peace and civil liberties and engage them in a good honest discussion about the limits and dangers of President Obama's expression of support for being "his brother's keeper." While making these points, we have to also assure them that we owe our brothers and sisters and ourselves a moral promise not to pursue actions that will bring harm to others. Pramatically, we must acknowledge that this might require rules; rules against force and fraud. Supporters of deregulation need to be able to define and discern the difference between regulation and common sense legal prohibitions.
11.23.2008 10:55am
THulsey (mail):
As Gino points out, what's the expense? Only $25 a year. For that amount, no, you do not buy immediate political results. For $25 a year, you're buying an option, to be exercised when MSchmahl's first scenario (one major party has a meltdown) takes place. It's very much worth the price.

Now, what to do till then? Here's a suggestion or two:
www.lewrockwell.com/orig6/husley6.html
11.24.2008 9:41am
cbyler (mail):

American politics remind me of the puzzle of the two ice-cream vendors along a beach. The free-market solution is for both vendors to be situated at the center of the beach, plus or minus epsilon. Each vendor thus gets half of the market share.

This is an interesting paradox, because a government regulator could mandate that the vendors be located at 1/4 and 3/4 the length of the beach, halving the average beachgoer's walk to get ice cream (assuming even distribution of beachgoers along the entire beach) and shortening the walk for 3/4 of beachgoers without changing anyone's market share.

Since this is a libertarian thread, I'm sure someone will explain how this is not a failure of the free market.
11.24.2008 2:10pm
THulsey (mail):
cbyler,
Imagine a beach where the 2 vendors have brainwashed all the consumers to worship 2 vendors (read "have an elementary school monopoly"), where the 2 vendors control who gets an ice cream sales license (read "control ballot access"), where all the consumers have been taught that other ice creams are poison (read "manipulate the media to perpetuate their control").
Get the photo?
11.24.2008 3:44pm
dmt:
By what standards is the authoritarian Bircherite, Sarah Palin, a libertarian? The posters mistaking her for one either don't know what a libertarian is or they don't know who Sarah Palin is. This "Palin is a libertarian" meme makes as much sense as calling Madalyn Murray O'Hair a Christian. It's nonsense. Stop it.

Now for what I originally wanted to post. The primary reason Barr lost the race is that he wasn't allowed near the starting line by the media. Even Nader got better press. If Barr were mentioned as often as McCain and Obama, it would have been a three-way race. The second reason is that the Obama-McCain race was so close and the differences between the two so vast that the first-past-the-post system strongly discouraged voters from considering other candidates.

Now as for the idea of the Libertarian Party closing up shop, I'm not sure if it is necessary but I do believe libertarianism would have more success recasting itself as a populist movement and joining together with the major party system. Libertarians can consider the Progressive movement as an example and even link up with like-minded people there. There is no reason the libertarian movement would need to be attached to one party or the other. A nonpartisan movement would probably be more effective than one seen as attached to either party, since going with one party will keep members of the other party from considering the movement's ideas.

The vision I have is of a congressional Libertarian Caucus composed of the Blue Dog Democrats and older centrist Republicans who support the entire Bill of Rights, libertarian candidates running in the open-seat primaries of both parties, and the odd socially liberal and fiscally conservative Democrat proudly declaring himself "a libertarian and a progressive". The public persona of libertarianism would be transformed from "fringe kooks" to the sensible moderates restraining the excesses of both parties.

Political disclaimer: I am not a libertarian, but I would like to see more libertarian influence in both major parties.
11.24.2008 4:36pm