Blogs > Liberty and Power > Never Mind Howling at the Moon

Mar 25, 2005 2:50 pm

Never Mind Howling at the Moon

A few months ago I commented on one of the reasons why libertarians don't get respect. As I wrote back then,
It's the Party, stupid. The Libertarian Party is a badge of shame upon an otherwise reasonable branch of political thought.
I stand by these words today. Everyone knows now that the Party is past its prime, and that even in its prime, the LP never was much to write home about.

In the 2004 election, the Party fielded a candidate who distinguished himself by claiming that use of the ZIP code is voluntary (which is true)--and that its use constitutes consent to be taxed under the Sixteenth Amendment as a"resident of a federal district of the District of Columbia."

Now this is a fat load of conspiracy-theory mumbo-jumbo. Sadly, consent is not required, save in certain theoretical constructs of the ever-hopeful libertarian mind. But wishing and dreaming will not make it so.

Nominating a fraud and a conspiracy theorist who is an embarrassment to the libertarian movement would be bad enough all by itself. Even more damning, however, is the fact that this individual did scarcely any better or worse than certain quite reasonable candidates that the party fielded back when it still looked like a rising star in American politics.

What this should tell us is that the problem with the LP runs far deeper than one presidential candidate. Consider this fisking of the Libertarian Party Platform written by the group bloggers at The 2% Company. I don't agree with everything it says, but its very existence should be a worrisome sign: By any objective measure, the 2% Company and their kind are exactly the voters the LP should be winning over. As proof, consider the group's short manifesto:
The Two Percent Company is an informal group of folks who are concerned about the current direction of our country and our world. In short, we believe that people have the right to do whatever they want to do, as long as it doesn't interfere with the rights of others. Unfortunately, religious figures, politicians, and stupid or narrow-minded people are determined to impose their silly or dangerous beliefs on us.
Can I get an amen here?

But the 2%ers can't stomach the Libertarian Party platform. And to be frank, neither can I. They write,
Taken in what we believe is its intended entirety, the Libertarian platform attempts to create something like a utopian commune existing on a political island separate from the rest of the world. This commune would have no central regulation for its monetary system, legislation or law enforcement; in fact, we'd be hard pressed to specify exactly what powers would remain with the government under the Libertarian system.
There is a reason why the 2% Company can't figure out whether a government would or would not exist in the Libertarian utopia: The LP itself hasn't decided yet.

This indecision between anarcho-capitalism and some vague form of a state means that whatever platform emerges will be little more than a bunch of glowing generalities. Simply choosing in either direction would be better than the betwixt-and-between approach we have seen so far.

But when the intelligent, well-connected voter reads the LP platform, they do not see a pure, principled, ideological party stance. They see a whole lot of confusion--which is, of course, a pretty fair description of the party itself.

Again, let's look at the 2% Company's analysis:
The Libertarians on Freedom of Religion:
[From the platform.] We condemn the attempts by parents or any others -- via kidnappings or conservatorships -- to force children to conform to any religious views.
...and on Families and Children:
[Again from the platform.] Families and households are private institutions, which should be free from government intrusion and interference. Parents, or other guardians, have the right to raise their children according to their own standards and beliefs, without interference by government -- unless they are abusing the children.
So, which is it?

Granted, blathering unreason does have a long and illustrious history in party platforms, and neither major party could ever draft one without it. But not only is this unreason, it is lunacy of a particularly sparkling kind. It clutters the LP platform with a lot of far-flung distractions rather than focusing on the most important, near-term problems. If it is to have any success at all, the Libertarian Party should moderate its platform and focus on those problems that most likely could be solved through political action--and those that are the most pressing to the general public.

Suppose there were a party with a platform that looked more or less like the status quo--but that recommended abolishing most farm and business subsidies, ending the war on drugs, simplifying the tax code, easing the"decency" regulations, and bringing the troops home from abroad. It wouldn't make any other drastic changes, but would merely push for these issues alone.

This hypothetical party would have very real support among smart, young, influential voters--much more at any rate than the current LP. It is just this sort of compromise that enables action in party politics: Imagine that our hypothetical party had even a tenth of the seats in Congress. Would this not be an overwhelming force for our ideals?

Unsurprisingly, the 2% Company soon comes to the conclusion that so many others have reached about our current Libertarians:
So, we could embrace the Libertarian ideal, and work toward a Libertarian world where we'll all just wander the earth — free from borders and passports, tracking deer with the Indians through the middle of the Wal-Mart, bartering some extra ammo for a bottle of rye, allowing our six-year-old children to strike out on their own and make their precocious ways in the world, enjoying our unlimited freedom...and paying tolls. Lots and lots of tolls.

Or, we can take the good ideas from the Libertarians, and discard the rest. The same can be said of any political party, and this is exactly the method that we recommend. If you research the ideas already in existence, weigh them rationally, choose what works, and fill in the rest with your own ideas, then when it comes time to cast your vote, you will be able to decide who best matches your own platform, and not just who belongs to a given political party that really doesn't represent your opinions at all.
What we have now in the way of political platform strikes the 2% Company--and yours truly--as a pure utopian fantasy, a plan that would be impossible to implement given our current starting conditions and that shows no effort whatsoever to connect the libertarian ideal to the world of the present.

As the 2% Company notes,"tolls" are the answer to everything. Tolls! Of all the most government-oriented, bureaucratic, statist solutions I could possibly imagine! No, I'm not really sure how roads would be financed in an ideal society. I do know that there are many worse things than what we have right now, and that staving them off might not be such a bad idea. I also know that liberty is remarkably resourceful. Perhaps in time we'll discover a workable solution to more public-goods problems--but we won't do it without some clear-cut libertarian successes elsewhere.

But the Libertarian Party isn't about politics; it's about a revolt against politics."Well, yes!" some of you may say. I, however, find this a contradiction in terms--a political party without a politics is not a bold counter-cultural statement. It's a pipe dream, and it's a distraction from the real work of securing individual liberties given the conditions under which we now live.

Instead, I would advocate a platform that would move the present government--gradually and cautiously--toward a more minimal state. Focus on the most egregious and unpopular abuses. Don't sweat the small stuff, and ignore anything that can't plausibly be accomplished in a decade. Begin in the mainstream, and move slowly.

Anarchists: Don't write me off just yet. There's something in this for you, too, I promise.

Personally, I happen to be convinced that the private defense agencies of anarcho-capitalist theory would in no sense be private: Privateness ends when force is sufficiently concentrated. Second, even if I am wrong, and if anarcho-capitalism is the best social arrangement, getting from"here" to"there" will almost certainly have to be a gradual process--that is, if Libertarians don't want to face a massive backlash against their program, one that would even further discredit libertarian thought.

Let's suppose that the anarchists are right. Now let's imagine that the Minarchist Party has been in power for a good fifteen or twenty years. Government is a tiny fraction of the size it used to be, and private institutions have grown in proportion. Life is far better all around, and many people have learned firsthand the benefits of free markets and individual liberties. Won't the transition to anarchism be that much easier, with a weakened state and a libertarian-minded population? At any rate, the difference between"good government," if such thing exists, and"bad government," would certainly become clearer once larger numbers of people had been brought on board.

Electorally, too, a move toward the center could yield huge practical benefits. Just a few steps toward that political center--hate it though some of us might--there is a large, untapped reservoir of libertarian-minded voters who are repelled by the extremism of the LP. I've been using the 2% Company as an example here, but I think they are typical of a much larger segment of the population.

Even the LP's own favorite marketing tool, the Nolan Test, suggests as much. But the party has been unable to capitalize on these voters because it's always tried to do far too much, and far too fast. The libertarian-minded voters out there have never been more dissatisfied with both the major political parties, but until they are offered a reasonable-sounding third option, one that does not look like so much howling at the moon, they will never change their affiliations.

Never mind if howling at the moon really is the high-minded, principled thing to do. What on earth gave you the idea that party politics is about high-mindedness or principle? Conservatives and liberals move mountains in party politics, every single day. They get what they want, again and again, and we all know how few principles they can have.

Randy Barnett suggested recently that the Libertarian Party has hurt the cause of libertarianism by draining off the libertarians of both major parties and diverting their efforts into a losing battle. He's right--and I might even add to the critique: Once these people are in the party, they stop talking sense altogether, and they are lost as effective advocates on matters of political consequence. Compare the work done by the Cato Institute, Reason magazine, the Pacific Legal Foundation, NORML, even the many Objectivist groups out there. Every last one of them, without exception, has done more for libertarianism than the Libertarian Party.

It is a standard rejoinder from the advocates of the LP, that if you do not care for the party's tactics or approach--Hey, why not join up and try to change things?

But what nonsense this is! Have we ever heard its like from another political organization of any sort at all? And why should we not take it as a frank admission of intellectual bankruptcy? Even worse: What possible appeal can this rejoinder have to anyone at all?"You don't like us. So join our group." Oh please.

If libertarianism is going to be a party politics at all, it needs a clean break from the dead-end party that it has right now. It needs a new party, one that recognizes what party politics really is: In the system we have (again, love it or hate it), party politics is the art of appealing to the public. Our current party has not the slightest clue how to do this. Appealing to the public means compromising; it means making deals, it means jettisoning the radicalism--all for the purpose of doing what we can in this particular realm of human action. It's one where we have scarcely begun to make ourselves known.

[Crossposted at Positive Liberty.]
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More Comments:

Jason Kuznicki - 3/28/2005

No apology necessary, and I certainly agree with you here--if only we could find a way to do it!

M.D. Fulwiler - 3/27/2005

Well, if you are going to run on a more moderate libertarian platform, you probably will start out with a much higher vote base if you ran as an anti-Bush Republican like Ron Paul.

M.D. Fulwiler - 3/27/2005


I apologize if I misunderstood you. It's fine to work for a 10% tax decrease. However, if someone asks me if I think the income tax should be abolished, I am morally obliged to answer "yes."

Jason Kuznicki - 3/27/2005

David Beito suggested in 04 that the LP nominate Penn Gilette to run for president. I thought that was a brilliant idea, as Penn would bring name recognition and some resources. He also really is a libertarian and his hip image and edginess combined with the sort of moderate and modest libertarian platform that Bill outlines could attract tons of young libertarian-leaning voters.

This is indeed brilliant. Can we get him to run next time?

I also understand that Trey Parker is a member of the party. Maybe he could serve as running mate? Maybe then no one would be surprised if the Vice President told a member of the Senate to go fuck himself.

Steven Horwitz - 3/27/2005

Two quick thoughts:

1. David Beito suggested in 04 that the LP nominate Penn Gilette to run for president. I thought that was a brilliant idea, as Penn would bring name recognition and some resources. He also really is a libertarian and his hip image and edginess combined with the sort of moderate and modest libertarian platform that Bill outlines could attract tons of young libertarian-leaning voters. It would certainly exploit the fault lines in the GOP and would attract social liberals who are fine with folks making a buck away from the Democrats. There's a market for just this sort of presidential run out there.

2. It is *not* lying to simply hold to your party's platform if you are their nominee. The point is that if you write a more moderate platform, you attract many more people in to the party who don't want to go "all the way." Thus the candidate's response is to always point to the platform and say "this is what I stand for in this election." If the candidate differs from other members of the party in the ultimate destination (and this is surely true of the major parties) then he or she can articulate that at another time. If the point of an LP presidential run is to begin the process of building a viable party (and I have my doubts about whether that is a goal to which libertarian resources should be devoted), then candidates can just point to the more-modest platform.

Bill Woolsey - 3/27/2005

I don't believe that it is ever a lie to not say something.

Most people don't expect that politicians run on a program that if implemented will result in perfection. The expectation is that if the changes that seem desirable are implemented, then further changes will be
proposed and implemented.

As someone who has run for public office several times, I can assure you, neither voters nor the press ask--and if you accomplish all of that, what then? And suppose you accomplish that too, what then?

Now, I can honestly state that I don't know exactly what I would propose at various stages of reform. I don't believe I can possibly know what kind of changes will be desirable at various future times.

Honestly, all I can do is fall back upon my various values and general ideas. I don't like any taxes. I am very skeptical about government. I think voluntary approaches are best. But, I don't have any real notion about how......well, whatever.

There are plenty of libertarians who have the rather know-it-all attitude implied by deducing positions from nonagression and some of them have no problem saying nothing about it and just proposing reforms. In fact, it has been the dominant approach for the last decade in the LP. Harry Browne is a peculiar sort of anarchist, but he comes off as if he is a constitutionalist. Huge numbers of Libertarians believe that such is the libertarian view.

My view is that people like you who feel that they just must talk about the ideal perfect society (one whose characteristics are consistent with deductions from a nonagression principle, for example) make poor politicians. Don't run for office and do other things where your desire to talk about such things don't cause confusion among likely Libertarian voters.

The confusion, of course, would be the notion that one should only vote for a Libertarian politician if one supports implimenting a society with every characteristic deduced from some kind of nonagression principle.

Jason Kuznicki - 3/27/2005

"You imply that I should, say, run on a "reasonable" platform of cutting taxes 10%, and not tell people that I really want to legalize heroin and eliminate the income tax totally. How would that not be lying?"

This isn't what I am suggesting at all, and I think it ought to have been clear by now.

All I am suggesting is that perhaps it might be more practical for us to keep our beliefs--but only to work for some of them in party politics. It's not lying; it's just refusing to let the perfect become the enemy of the good.

M.D. Fulwiler - 3/27/2005


There is no libertarian "utopia." Utopia is a fantasy. We can have a much better society, but even radical libertarianism is not guaranteed to make you immortal, give you a great lover, and make you rich as Bill Gates.

I don't "demand" a totally libertarian society next week, and I will compromise if it moves us in the right direction. However, if someone asks me if we ~should~ cut at least 95% of the government, I will say yes. You imply that I should, say, run on a "reasonable" platform of cutting taxes 10%, and not tell people that I really want to legalize heroin and eliminate the income tax totally. How would that not be lying?

Maybe it is "impractical" to try to eliminate all aggression. But so what? It's the right and moral thing to do.

There is no magic strategy to get to a free world. Actually, nobody has figured out how to do it yet. But certainly it has to start with each libertarian doing the right thing and advocating the right policies.

Jason Kuznicki - 3/27/2005

On the one hand, I will say that I have very clear ideals about what a libertarian utopia might look like.

But on the other, I do know that virtually all utopias look childishly naive in retrospect. I can't imagine that mine would be any different.

Rather than demanding "my personal utopia or nothing," I think it is much more reasonable to take careful, measured steps in the direction of right, focusing on getting rid of the very worst abuses right away, while leaving some of the more difficult problems aside perhaps indefinitely.

I don't regard this strategy as a lie at all. On the contrary, I think it is an act of considerable courage and even of political maturity.

M.D. Fulwiler - 3/27/2005


Even if I ran on what you call a "moderate" program, it would be a LIE for me to claim that I didn't intend it as a first step towards at least a very minimal government. Unlike McGovern, Reagan and McCarthy, I don't believe in huge government. Now I personally might vote for a "low tax liberal" or a "libertarian leaning conservative" as the lesser of the evils, but that is not what I believe. Politicians in general are huge liars to begin with, and I'm not going to jump on that horrid bandwagon of deceit.
If the public is not in favor of minimal government, we would do best to work on philosophical change, rather than political campaigns.

Jason Kuznicki - 3/26/2005

more advertising would certainly allow a radical libertarian to get more votes, but the same amount of advertising should allow a more moderate libertarian to get even more votes.

It is hard to come up with rational explanation as to how a more radical program will generate more support.
(Well, the actual rationale is that the LP fundraising base will contribute more for a radical program. Those funds will allow for more exposure. More exposure will allow for more votes. The contraint, then, is that LP contributors are paying for self-exhilaration. If they were interested in maximizing political support, then a more realistic program should generate more support.)

This seems the heart of the matter to me. I suspect that a lot of libertarians have been influenced by Rand's dictum that "In any compromise between food and poison, death is the winner."

As to individual values, she is perfectly correct. As to politics, if food doesn't sometimes compromise a little bit with poison, then poison is all we get.

Bill Woolsey - 3/26/2005

Ron Paul's program in 1988 was subject to Rothbard's ideological control. He doesn't run for Congress on that program. Let's see....there was the 10% flat income tax, and there is that claim that the drug war should be fought solely by state and local governments.

It is true, however, that he is able to consistently win reelection even though he sometimes says quite radical things.

Incumbency is so powerful. What is incredible is how he got in to start with!

I agree that the Koch money allowed Clark to do more advertising than any LP Presidential candidate before or since.

However, spending on advertising can only translate into more votes if the message being advertised will be attractive to people.

Given that even the Clark campaign had very limited exposure, it was very important to maximize the likelihood of support by those who were reached.

For example, Harry Browne's talk show efforts
apparently generated a good deal of name recognition. He had more negatives than positives, however. The Gallup results on Browne used to be on the web.

So, more advertising would certainly allow a radical libertarian to get more votes, but the same amount of advertising should allow a more moderate libertarian to get even more votes.

It is hard to come up with rational explanation as to how a more radical program will generate more support.
(Well, the actual rationale is that the LP fundraising base will contribute more for a radical program. Those funds will allow for more exposure. More exposure will allow for more votes. The contraint, then, is that LP contributors are paying for self-exhilaration. If they were interested in maximizing political support, then a more realistic program should generate more support.)

And it isn't just votes that count--especially
if you are losing anyway. It is the favorable/
unfavorable impression ratio. The goal of these sorts of efforts is so that when experienced libertarian poiticians are ready to move to a higher (and partisan) office, there will be a large group of people already sympathetic. Hopefully, when combined with those who elected them to lower office, this can put them over the top.

I believe that the proper model for a Libertarian candidate who has appreciably no chance to win is something like Reagan in 80, Goldwater in 64, McCarthy
in 68 or McGovern in 72. Of course, the content of
the programs should be libertarian rather than conservative or liberal.

Reagan and Goldwater didn't run on a program of abolishing the income tax and outlawing divorce and stoning homosexuals. McCarthy and McGovern didn't run on a program of nationalizing all business. Still, their programs were considered "radical." It is that sort of image of "radicalism" that the LP should aim to cultivate. Radical by mainstream standards.

Also, note that Reagan didn't propose cutting tax rates by 30% as a first step towards abolishing the income tax and put Meese in charge of restricting pornography as a first step towards stoning homosexuals. McGovern didn't propose a guaranteed national income as a first step towards abolishing wages and prices. Similarly, libertarians shouldn't propose libertarian reforms as a first step towards anarcho-capitalism, Randian minarchism, or even the sort of Constitutionalism that the LP currently promotes.

If the LP could acually find a rich and famous candidate, such a program should result not in victory, necessarily, but I think a pretty exciting change in our poitical culture.

But until the right candidate comes along, you just plug away the best you can.

I am not against running as a Republican (or Democrat.) A wealthy and famous libertarian running on a realistic program in the Republican or Democratic primaries would have my undivided support. If they won the primary, I would work for them in the general election too.

But I believe that the Republican Party is so dominated by conservatives that it will be difficult to get elected on a socially tolerant (and fiscally conservative) program.

What usually happens is that libertarians try to win by downplaying personal freedom issues. And there is a long record of those that are successful coming to adopt the beliefs of other conservatives.

Still, I always support libertarians when they run in major party primaries.

Jason Kuznicki - 3/26/2005


William Marina - 3/26/2005

I did not say, "don't post," what I indicated was, providing a link is sufficient.
I don't care what you post about, providing it takes a reasonable space on the blog, although I understand someone without an alternate site might need more space.

M.D. Fulwiler - 3/26/2005

"Radical" Ron Paul, who still belongs to the Libertarian Party, has won 7 terms in Congress now, so it's certainly possible to win on a radical program.

I think Ed Clark did as well as he did only because he was able to spend a fair amount on advertising. I don't think it had much to do with being a "moderate."

I'm all for compromise if it moves us in the direction of more freedom. But if you are going to run on a platform of lowering taxes 5% and legalizing marijuana, you might as well run as a Republican.

And Jason, just because 99% of the public doesn't agree with us, it doesn't mean we are wrong. Libertarians shouldn't lie to the public to get votes. Taxation is robbery and the draft is slavery. Of course, you can craft your message to try to avoid the "raving lunatic" perception.

Frankly, if the public ever starts buying libertarian ideas en masse, I think they would just be co-opted by one or both of the major parties. Which would be fine.

Bill Woolsey - 3/26/2005

Ron Paul ran on a radical program.

The only LP Presidential campaign that ran on a plausible program was Clark, and while the support remained miniscule, it was best.

I agree that Grey was a good candidate by LP standards who ran on a reasonable program and who still did poorly.

I don't buy the notion, however, that if you are going to lose, you might as well sound like a raving lunatic.

I still think that the LP should run on a program that polling suggests many people will support, even if they don't vote for the LP rather than running on a program that hardly anyone supports.

Getting votes for a high level office is tough. But having that hardly anyone supports is a sure way to avoid getting votes.

There are several hundred libertarians in public office. I don't believe it is desirable to run candidates for high public office whose howling at the moon are an embarrassment so that our town and county councilmen want to deny that they are libertarians at all.

Running on a reasonable program for high level office and building up a cadre of experienced public officials will take a long time. Maybe it won't ever work

But just saying what excites about 1% of the voting population is a strategy doomed to fail.

Jason Kuznicki - 3/25/2005

I actually agree with you on all these issues, Mark. The drug laws are grossly unjust and terribly harmful. Martha Stewart was thrown into prison, so far as I can tell, on little more than a misunderstanding. Iraq may yet become a functioning democracy--but only long after we are gone, and through little or none of our own doing.

But let's have some realism here, too. The average person does not agree that taxation is tantamount to slavery. Our target voters, the ones who might support repealing the drug laws or taking a less interventionist stance abroad, will only be alienated by lines like these.

I reject the idea that compromise means surrender. The Democrats and Republicans compromise all the time--and very often they get a lot of what they want. Unlike political theory, that's how political practice works. Can't we find a way to make it work for us?

M.D. Fulwiler - 3/25/2005

Well, the government makes you work about 40 per cent of the time for it, which is an improvement over the Southern plantations...

And things really are THAT BAD if, say, you are in prison for violating the drug laws, or telling a fib to FBI agents like Martha Stewart, and they are certainly THAT BAD if you are forced to be in Iraq.

Jason Kuznicki - 3/25/2005

Part of my point was to observe exactly what you're talking about, Mark: Radical candidates or not, the party doesn't do particularly well or badly.

I think the problem is that the party sacrifices what small, incremental good it COULD do for making statements that simply alienate most voters. Not THIS libertarian party, but some hypothetical libertarian party, could do a lot of good by advocating even modest reforms.

As to whether the current situation can be compared to slavery, I don't think it's a fair analogy. Things really aren't THAT bad. Yes, there is a lot to complain about, but also I think we need to admit that we don't always have convincing answers about what a more libertarian society really would look like: This is why so many pie-in-the-sky programs get thrown into the platform.

M.D. Fulwiler - 3/25/2005

Actaully, the LP gets about the same number of votes whether it runs "wild eyed" radicals or moderates. Ron Paul didn't exactly run away with the election when he ran in 1988, and a "moderate" judge running for U.S. Senate recently here in California got an absolutely underwhelming number of votes.

I fail to see what is wrong with saying we ~should~ have immediate radical change, but being prepared to accept gradualism towrds freedom as a pragmatic necessity at times. Suppose slavery was still legal: Would Mr. Kuzunski say that we should have a 20 year phase out period to make it illegal? If an action violates rights it ~should be~ abolished immediately. If that is not possible, a phase out is better than the status quo. Fine.

However, the bottom line here is that we need a general philosophical change to have a more libertarian world. Political gimmicks don't work. Most people just don't agree with libertarians, except on a few issues here and there. Big government is popular. That's the truth.

Bill Woolsey - 3/25/2005

While I strongly favor a more realitic (moderate) libertarian party, I often find it puzzling what critics (like the 2% folks) find crazed.

While I think the LP's monetary plank(s) could use some work, and I don't favor a gold standard, a privately run gold standard wouldn't be chaos. I found Selgin's account of free banking quite convincing.

Something like 90% of payments in the US are handled privately. Privatizing the other 10% isn't all that extreme. Getting rid of monetary policy (as the LP platform suggests) is more radical. It might be worse than the status quo, but chaos? No.

Similarly, using time variant tolls to control traffic congestion is a _moderate_ libertarian proposal. Of course, making that system universal might be impractical.

As for their horror of an end of occupational licensing, that is a very moderate libertarian reform. Isn't it in Friedman's "Capitalism and Freedom?"

They did point to the children's rights plank. That is a sore point with me, and a plank that is also controversial. It was deleted for a time, but its back.

The abortion plank is also controversial.

But most of the LP platform isn't controversial with LP conventioneers. I don't know how seriously they all take it, though.

Jason Kuznicki - 3/25/2005

"My, but you do run on at length, beating the long dead horse.
Couldn't you just have made a short comment, and directed us to your site where it was cross-indexed?"

You know, I actually thought this piece might have been of interest to some readers. But the next time I have something to say about the libertarian movement, I will be sure not to post it here.

And let's see... By your lights I shouldn't be posting about Objectivism, about sexuality, about the Libertarian Party... Maybe I should just ask what I AM permitted to post about?

Bill Woolsey - 3/25/2005

In 1992, I almost gave up on the Libertarian Party. Andre' Marrou, the Presidential candidate, was promoting an economic program that didn't add up. Abolish the personal income tax, freeze new government hires, and then in a few years, the budget would be balanced.

I decided instead to became active in the LP to try to "fix" things.

Some LP leaders formed the "Libertarian Majority Caucus."

One of its goals was to remove the "pledge" which libertarians commit to oppose the initiation of force. Their take on this was that it limited membership in the LP to anarcho-capitalists. In reality, it also includes no-taxation minarchists. They instead wanted to encourage everyone "in the libertarian quadrant" to join. In other words, people who favor more personal and economic liberty than today.

A second element of their reform proposal was to change the LP platform into a document that proposed various libertarian oriented reforms--things that could reasonably be implemented in the near term. They perceived the existing LP platform as a document that sought to lay out the libertarian plumbline on all the major issues of the day. For the most part, it layed out Murry Rothbard's line on everything.

There was more--professional operations, organizing down to the precinct level--but the two above reforms were the key.

At the 1993 convention, the reformers lost. But it was pretty close.

A new document called the "Party Program" was introduced to promote short term transitional measures. The platform was kept to describe long term goals. Usually, the platform isn't emphasized.

No one has ever used the pledge to keep out moderate libertarians. It is occassionally used against Libertarians who commit violent acts in their personal lives. People are welcomed to join the LP if they generally agree with LP policy proposals. There is a minority who will nag at more moderate libertarians as not "really being libertarians." Still, the dominant faction want as many people involved as possible.

During the nineties, the dominant policy approach by the LP became a sort of Constitutionalism. Abolish the income tax, get rid of all federal goverment programs not in the Constitution, and end the war on drugs, immediately privatize Social Security, and bring the troops home.

A good number of rank-and-file Libertarians believe that program _is_ the LP platform.

The proponents of this program constantly that this program would be hugely popular if people just knew about it. Cynics believe that the faction claiming this were using such claims as a fundraising ploy, with a significant portion of the the funds being funneled into the pockets of those advocating the position.

In the 1996 race, the only serious opponent to this approach argued that a more radical program was appropriate. Run on noninitiation of force and abolishing all taxes. He got about 10% of the delegate support.

By 2000, a second issue had arisen. Some libertarians argued that emphasizing the Presidental race was a mistake. Libertarians should run for local offices that they can win, build up a cadre of elected Libertarian officials and work up to higher office step by step.

In the 2000 Presidential nomination battle, Don Gorman proposed that the LP focus on local races, and ran on a moderate libertarian program. Browne ran on the Constitutional program as before. Hornberger ran on a more radical program (criticizing Browne's Constitutionalist program for not being hardcore enough.) Both Gorman and Hornberger believed that Browne's cronies were using the LP has a money making scam. Browne won. Part of it was simply the view that Browne would look and sound better on radio and TV. Hornberger had been very vocal that Browne and company were crooks. Along with that negativism, he could hardly appeal to those who thought the Browne approach was unrealistic. While Gorman had served for a time in the NH legislature and held various local offices, he wasn't very photogenic or articulate. Gorman (like Browne) hadn't attended College.

After 2000, a group called the "Mainstream Libertarian Caucus" developed. A more realistic message was one of its key goals. It died out.

In 2004, Gary Nolan ran on the Browne "Constitutionalist" program. Nolan was associated with various Browne cronies. His campaign manager was National Director during a year the LP almost went backgroup.

Badnarik was supported by people who continued to think the Browne cronies were crooks. He was not considered a serious candiate by most.

At the last minute, Aaron Russo joined the race. Russo was the first Presidential candidate since Clark in 1980 who didn't propose abolishing the income tax and replacing it with nothing. (Clark proposed a 50% income tax rate cut and Russo proposed to abolish the income tax and replace it with a low sales tax.) Generally, Russo was proposing to run on a moderate program--out of Iraq, medical marijuana, and cut taxes and spending. Russo lost. He wasn't all that photogenic, had health problems, and has a bombastic rhetorical style. He also holds some conspiracy theory notions.

Nolan's forces really spread the dirt on Russo. Russo considered the Browne cronies behind Nolan as a bunch of crooks. While the Russo forces made an effort to be positive, the negative attitudes came out.

The "stategy" was that Badnarik would be out after the first ballot. Both Nolan and Russo needed Badnarik's supporters.

And so, Badnarik slipped in. Most delegates didn't even know about his crazed conspiracy theories. He didn't even have a campaign program. He said that the platform was good enough for him. He didn't run on any of those crazed notions. It was pretty much the Constitutionalist stuff that the LP has been running on since 1996.

I dropped out of the LP because of Badnarik. But some cadets at The Citadel wanted to form a libertarian student group and so I agreed to be their advisor. Because they were interested in the LP, I gave up on my resolution to give it up.

There remain reformers who want to focus on winnable races, include everyone who wants more economic and personal freedom, and promote realistic solutions.

That sure includes me!

But there remain many in the LP who want to hold high the banner of principle, call for immediate radical change, and generally run attractive and articulate candidates for offices way beyond their finances or qualifications. I believe that they realize perfectly well that the votes generated by the process will be insigificant, so they are "happy" with the results the LP gets.

Often the new recruits believe that immediate radical change will soon be implemented. When that doesn't happen, some join with the group who just "howl at the moon," some give up and quit, and some become "realists" who try to reform the LP.

After trying to reform the LP for a while, the realists usually give up and quit.

But in the end, I have the same recommendation as other LP stalwarts. If you want realist reform in the LP, join up and promote it.

William Marina - 3/25/2005

My, but you do run on at length, beating the long dead horse.
Couldn't you just have made a short comment, and directed us to your site where it was cross-indexed?
I was active in the LP from roughly 1974-84, but resigned from the one committee I was on, when it became apparent the poor creature was already nearing death.
As I mentioned in a comment on Bob Higgs piece nearby, the best comment on the Parties remains that of Karp, 1973.
They have become part of the integral structure of the Empire.

Brian Radzinsky - 3/25/2005

The LP has long been ineffective, and their actions have shown such for years now. When local LP officials start sounding like far rightist militiamen or conspiracy theorists, it's cause to be worried. Then when Michael Badnarik starts going around insinuating that declaring drivers' licenses unconstitutional is a cause we should be fighting tooth and nail for, we should just get up and leave.

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