Libertarians: If It’s Broken…

The Libertarian Party could be a tremendous force for good in American politics if only it could get over itself. Many within the party have begun to wake up and see the simple truth. Substantial reform is going to be needed if the LP is to ever be a viable political entity!

That’s why all week long I plan to dedicate space in this blog to articles, interviews, and debates about the current push to fix the LP.

First off, a little personal history. I will confess that I was a dues paying member of the Libertarian Party for a time in the mid and late 90’s…

I was sure Harry Browne would smash the one million vote mark in 1996, and the party would reach new levels of legitimacy.

I received my copy of LP News every month, and my frequent emergency fundraising letters. Headquarters was always broke… always on the very verge of success… and if only a few more people knew we were out there, that’s all it would take. If only every registered voter heard the words “Libertarian Party” one time… they would surely come rushing to support us.

I vaguely remember that there was a Congressional seat in which the incumbent had done everything short of being arrested and carried away to prison. The other major party had not put up anyone to run against him, and so it was a two-way race with just a Libertarian offering opposition. It seemed certain that the party would finally have a seat in Congress. At least, reading LP News you’d think that way. The election rolls around and we lost by at least 20-30%.

Harry Brown, part 2? A bigger ballot box flop than the first.

State Representative Neil Randall? Booted out of the party for not being 100% pure and true to the holy platform.

Michael Badnarik and Richard Campagna? Wasted opportunity.

For 30 years now, the Libertarian Party has been promoting the wrong message in the wrong manner. The LP must compromise and accept a wider group of people who have general agreements that the size of government should shrink. No more small tent thinking!

Maybe those new people you gain will support the war in Iraq or believe crack cocaine should be illegal. The knee-jerk reaction from most current and past party members has been to say that if you aren’t 100% with the party then you’re not fit to call yourself a Libertarian. That must stop.

Match this self-destructive attitude with a horrible strategy that focused on running candidates in bulk for any office in sight. No concern for seeking out qualified individuals or even people who will run active campaigns. What do you get? A solid 1% of the vote.

It was an expensive lesson, but the LP has to now be learning that just throwing names on the ballot doesn’t get you anywhere.

Another area of concern is the Presidential election. Putting a large amount of your money and effort into a campaign that will receive between 0.25% and 0.50% of the vote doesn’t make sense. No one really cares. Even if the candidate got a million votes, only Libertarians would take much notice.

A new direction and a new way of thinking must come about, and it must happen soon!

76 Responses to “Libertarians: If It’s Broken…”

  1. Stanley H. Says:

    If the Libertarian Party doesn’t take a stand for what it believes in, there’s not much of a point for it to go on. That’s just my opinion.

    By the way, there is another third party out there that has a similar philosophy to that of the Libertarian Party. I’m referring to the Personal Choice Party. From what I understand, that party isn’t as strict as the Libertarian Party when it comes to having it’s candidates follow a particular platform.

  2. Austin Cassidy Says:

    I understand where you’re coming from, but in my view… it’s better to come up with a compromise that gets you some of what you want, and then winning some local and state elections. Taking a full principled stand on an issue and getting 1% of the vote doesn’t help much.

    I was really interested in the Personal Choice Party to start with, but they ran a porn star for VP which just smelled of cheesey stunt-publicity. And the weird smiley face logo doesn’t do much to encourage me, either.

  3. Chris Bennett Says:

    Austin,

    Thats the reason why I created LibertyConsulting…to attract serious Libertarian candidates and give them the exposure and help needed to make a good showing at the ballot box. The LP is so dysfunctional right now and it’s basically everyone for themselves!

    On a lighter note; I was on Aaron Russo’s staff and even though I like Badnarik, Russo had a plan and would have done better in the polls than Badnarik. The party in my opinion dropped the ball on that one…

    By the way I’m blogging now too!
    http://chrisbennettfromillinois.blogspot.com

    Come visit! I just released it today

  4. NewFederalist Says:

    I am certain you will be covering the efforts of the Libertarian Reform Caucus in the coming days. As a former LP member myself (1974 - 1985) I can relate to what they are trying to accomplish. I look forward to reading your series because if the Libertarians are going to become a true “third” party (as opposed to the numerous politically insignificant minor parties we currently have) some major changes will have to be made.

  5. Tim West Says:

    Chris,

    Set your comments up so you dont have to have a Blogger account to post comments. You’ll get a lot more interaction that way. Welcome to the blogworld!

    Libertarian Week on TPW! Sweet!

  6. Chris Bennett Says:

    Tim,

    The problem has been fixed and the eagle has landed.
    http://chrisbennettfromillinois.blogspot.com

  7. Jake Says:

    I agree with some of what you have said but I would like to point out that if it was not for Badnarik I would not a Libertarian and would not have my own blog or have told many people about libery.

  8. Stuart Richards Says:

    Badnarik was a good guy… I’m not sure if him or Russo would have been a better candidate, in fact I’m pretty certain that it didn’t make a huge amount of difference. Nolan would have been a problem, though.

    And I’m excited about this Libertarian Reform week… the fact that we’re being covered by sites unaffiliated with the LP just shows how much momentum we’re gaining.

  9. Stephen Gordon Says:

    One of my unofficial projects for the last few weeks is to better understand the nature of the primary areas of conflict within the LP. A few blog postings at the LP site (latest = http://www.lp.org/yourturn/archives/000049.shtml) and a LP reform site (latest = http://libertyforsale.com/?p=200#comments) have been dedicated toward this end.

    Perhaps if the conflict is better understood, then potential solutions may be offered.

  10. George Phillies Says:

    In my opinion, the serious difficulty is not the platform. The serious difficulties of the Libertarian Party have included

    1) corruption Read my book Funding Liberty http://3mpub.com/phillies
    2) lack of attention to reality, e.g, the 1998+/- strategic plan that called for us to be seen as a challenger for taking control of Congress, within a few years from now, with no hint of how this was to be done
    3) lack of basic politics, e.g., support and development of candidates and local organization
    4) membership recruitment, a goal attained entirely by mailing out whacking thick letters, exclusively to right-wing mailing lists.
    5) Grandstanding campaigns that Hoovered up money from across America, and made no effort to develop things that would outlive them.
    6) Belief that purist/pragmatist disagreements and platform tweaking are central to advancing the party

    For more on these, read Let Freedom Ring! monthly, free at http://www.cmlc.org

    For an alternative position, please read my book Stand Up for Liberty! http://www.3mpub.com/phillies (available in Spanish and as searchable html at http://www.cmlc.org under ‘publications’).

    And support local and state groups that are actually doing politics, groups like Liberty for Massachusetts http://www.libertyformassachusetts.org

  11. Stephen Bach Says:

    Wow. It seems like everywhere I turn I find a former Libertarian that got burned out from the radicalism…

    Stephen, I’ve been reading some of your other stuff; what do you think is the fundamental reason that the ideological purists would rather take their approach then work for slower but more likely change? I’ve always considered myself a rational persona and my own conclusions about the LP seem obvious, but I’m looking for some insight. Can you help me out?

  12. Stephen Gordon Says:

    I totally agree with points 2, 3 and 5 made by George. 4 is problematic, but not of primary concern to me, as I find greater results in internet activities, where I have clearly reached out to both the right and the left.

    I’m split on number 6. I don’t the the schisms within the party are the greatest problem (our inability to deal with real world politics is the biggie, IMO).

    However, this seems to be the greatest problem which I can find identified on the internet and in dealing with people on both sides if this issue. To them, it is a biggie - and stopping progress in other directions.

    That said, fixing this problem also opens the door to engaging in real politics and recruiting - which addresses two items on George’s list.

    Stephen - the answer to your question is what I have been spending a lot of time trying to learn. I don’t have an answer yet. Hopefully, I have been able to really open the dialogue so we may all find an answer, however. I’d rather spend time working together than fighting amongst ourselves.

  13. Stephen Gordon Says:

    NewFederalist:

    What changes, in your mind, need to be made?

  14. NewFederalist Says:

    Stephen Gordon:
    I have been absent from LP membership for nearly 20 years. For the first 10 of those years I had no contact with the party other than what I saw in the media (which was almost nothing). For the past 10 years I have been a subscriber to LP News so I have somewhat kept up on developments. I actually believe the party is more moderate now than it was in the mid 80’s when I left. I believe the platform should be separated from a long term statement of objectives or goals. The longer term vision could be uncompromising in its intention to return government to the role originally set forth by the founders. The platform could be less ideological thus allowing potential candidates who are NOT purely libertarian (but certainly not anti-libertarian, either) to seek a home in the LP. For example, I agree with the party’s position on the drug issue. However, every time I see a Libertarian candidate making this his/her signature issue even I get turned off. You can imagine what other voters must be thinking. Constitution Party candidates use the abortion issue much the same way with a similar result. I think the party must broaden its base if electoral success is really the goal. It won’t be easy but with Democrats and Republicans both spending like there is no tomorrow… there might not be. Somebody has got to step up and offer a rational, non-threatening alternative.

  15. Stephen Bach Says:

    George,

    I bought your two libertarian ebooks a couple of days ago and I am working my way through them now. I agree that your ideas are excellent for how we go about fighting in the political arena. However, my idea of the goal of the reform movement is to make the LP ready to enter the political arena in the first place. Without shaping up and acting like a real party, we can’t begin our campaigns. Our platform is like an anchor that holds us back and our structure is a major hurdle to acheiving success.

    BTW, how do you feel about the Squyres Proposal?

  16. George Phillies Says:

    Stephen,
    Cutting off UMP is a good thing. My issue is not with the half million give or take in dues we raise each year, but with the other 1.5 million that the LCN spends, such as $100,000+ for an expensive Washington office facility.
    George

  17. Otto Kerner Says:

    Despite some scepticism, I found myself sympathetic to Austin’s points as I read through, until I reached a line which, for me, gave the whole thing away. “Maybe those new people you gain will support the war in Iraq” ... maybe there are some people who just shouldn’t be in the party? What if someone said, “Maybe those new people will support raising taxes” ... would those people qualify for a big tent? In my opinion, opposing foreign wars like the one in Iraq (not necessarily the one in Afghanistan) must be a core libertarian principle. Libertarian political activities need some kind of principles, otherwise one might as well work for the Republicans or Democrats. They sure know how to win elections. Of course, people disagree about what the core principles should be; the people who ran Neil Randall out of the party saw gay marriage as a core principle (I disagreed with that and told them so).

    I don’t really think the Party is reformable. The flaw in party activists’ thinking is the belief that somehow the result of an election influenced by who is right. It’s not; it is determined by who can wield political power most effectively. Our opponents are people who do that for a living; the high-level ones are selected from a pool of tens of thousands of professionals via a rigorously competitive process. Realistically, anything you are concerned with besides winning, such as principle, is going to be a distraction and an obstacle to success. Sooner or later, a party pursuing realistic politics is going to have to make that choice. If the LP is run by a bunch of politicians, I think I know which choice they will make.

    For that reason, if the LP is going to pursue realpolitik (which they might as well if they are going to call themselves a party) that just makes it all the more important that all of their candidates (obviously, voters of any type will be accepted) all of their candidates must be not only ethically above reproach but also ideologically rock-ribbed and pure. That way, once they’re in power, there’s a fighting chance that they might actually stand up for what we believe in. (One might say that foreign policy doesn’t really matter for candidates running for school boards and state legislatures—but isn’t the idea to groom future Congressmen and presidential candidates by starting at the local level?)

    Remember, Lord Acton said, “Power corrupts.” The idea of “realistic” libertarian politics is for libertarians to become powerful. That calls, at minimum, for caution.

  18. Austin Cassidy Says:

    But what if someone supports lower taxes, less government, legalizing drugs, etc…. but they also support the war in Iraq? If the LP washes it’s hands of that person… he probably becomes a Republican. Now apply that to drugs… against the war, lower taxes, less government, but no legal crack. Too many people have a disagreement with the party somewhere for it to work that way.

    You’re kind of talking about Libertarianism as if it was a religion and that it’s impossible to believe if you violate one principle. It’s a political party… there are Democrats against social spending and minimum wage increases. There are Republicans for tax increases and against the war. Not that many, really… but people aren’t excommunicated for disagreement on a central issue or two. It’s what let’s you have a Presidential primary with candidates that range from Joe Lieberman to Dennis Kucinich.

  19. Mikey Says:

    I think the Libertarian party simply needs to look at the Republican and Democratic tents to see that you can be a successful party and yet accept those who have different views on some of your core ideologies. Gay Republicans? Conservative Democrats? If those two parties were as hard-core as the Libertarians have been, they’d lose at least 25% of their members.

  20. Otto Kerner Says:

    No, libertarianism is not a religion, but it’s not a party, either. It’s a political philosophy. Invading foreign countries, as in the case of Iraq, is totally contrary to what we stand for. Personally, I’d rather vote for a centrist who was solidly against the war than for a libertarian who was for it.

    There’s no point in the LP “washing its hands” of anyone who wants to be an LP voter or even one who wants to be a campaign worker, but the idea that it should be running candidates who disagree with the party’s position on what is perhaps the most important issue in American politics today, no, that’s counterproductive.

    I just don’t understand the point of trying to get the LP to be like Republicans and Democrats. Those parties already exist, they don’t need to be recreated. They already have a big tent, so I’m sure they would be happy to accept Libertarians as members, provided you are willing to commit to working for their politicians. What good does it do for the Libertarian Party to ape them?

    I basically agree with Austin’s statement, “Too many people have a disagreement with the party somewhere for it to work that way.” That’s probably correct, and the reason is that there probably aren’t enough libertarian voters to support a libertarian party. Libertarian politics is unlikely to ever work out under any strategy, and the Libertarian Party is unlikely to become anything other than a fool’s errand, which is why the party as it stands is run by a bunch of hobbyists who, of course, always lose to the professionals. That’s just natural. A proposal to have the party organized by some professional politicians commanding an army of hobbyists sounds nice, but, really, why would the professionals want to do that. People who are really interested in wielding political power naturally drift toward the Republican or Democratic Parties, which are built for that purpose.

  21. Josh Ondich Says:

    State Representative Neil Randall was booted out by a group of people who believe people who are members of the Libertarian party have to agree with the Libertarian Party platform 100% . A faction of people who do that are usually called Hardliners. Hardliners usually mean a group of people in alot of cases (Traditionalists) will kick anybody out of the party who is not obiedent 100% to their party or cause. These people who kicked Neil Randall out probably hate other people who even have a slight disagreement with the party platform . I am a new member of the Libertarian Party and The Libertarian Reform Caucus. The Iraq Exit Startegy is a reform from the LP National Committee staff the only people I see on the Internet complain are the Hardliners. I am reformer. I want to see if the reform plans made by the Libertarian Reform Caucus really make the Libertarian Party into a real alternative to the Democrats and Republicans.

  22. Stephen Gordon Says:

    George,

    To make my position on UMP clear - I personally don’t support it, but I am also the elected representitive of a body which does - so remarks made by me in support of UMP are my attempt to fulfil my state party responsibilities.

  23. Stanley H. Says:

    I think the wise move for the Green Party would be to go into talks with John Kerry. If Hillary Clinton wins the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination in 2008 (and I hope that she doesn’t), I think that the Green Party should offer Kerry the opportunity to be it’s candidate.

    I don’t think that the Green Party would actually make that offer to Kerry, but I think that it should. Kerry cares about things such as the environment and worker rights. He also got more than 58 million votes in the 2004 election. Having Kerry as it’s presidential candidate would help out big time in making it a party eligible for matching funds.

    I would prefer that Kerry be the Democratic Party’s presidential nominee in 2008, because I want to see him actually win the presidency. However, if Hillary wins the Democratic Party’s nomination in 2008, and if Kerry wins the Green Party’s nomination, I would definitely be voting Green.

  24. Stanley H. Says:

    I’m sorry, Austin. I accidentally posted that last response under the wrong article. Can you please delete that post? Thank you.

  25. Stephen Gordon Says:

    Stanley,

    While clearly not a member of the GP, I’d suggest that offering Kerry anything would be worse than adherence to Green principles. He is indicative of everything they oppose. Kerry didn’t even oppose the war in Iraq.

    I have the greatest of respect for Greens, even where I strongly disagree with them—they argue on principle, at least. For the GP to support Kerry would be like the LP supporting Bush (and I barf simultaneously at both thoughts).

    My opinion is that a Green-Libertarian alliance could be built around Howard Dean (if he was smart enough to work on such an alliance) (cuts taxes and spending, provided concealed carry, is not afraind to support civil liberties, and clearly opposed the war—socialized heathcare would be the major problem) but not Kerry.

  26. Stanley H. Says:

    My post about John Kerry and the Green Party were meant to be posted in response to a different article. That’s why I asked Austin to delete the post. Since a response to my comment was posted here, I’ll respond to it.

    QUOTE: “While clearly not a member of the GP, I’d suggest that offering Kerry anything would be worse than adherence to Green principles. He is indicative of everything they oppose. Kerry didn’t even oppose the war in Iraq.”

    John Kerry is not “indicative of everything” that the Green Party opposes. For example, Kerry wants a raise in the minimum wage. Kerry also wants stronger enforcement of environmental laws for corporations to adhere to.

    QUOTE: “My opinion is that a Green-Libertarian alliance could be built around Howard Dean (if he was smart enough to work on such an alliance) (cuts taxes and spending, provided concealed carry, is not afraind to support civil liberties, and clearly opposed the war—socialized heathcare would be the major problem) but not Kerry.”

    Well, I would never vote for Howard Dean. On the other hand, I would happily vote for John Kerry.

  27. Stanley H. Says:

    CORRECTION: “My post about John Kerry and the Green Party WAS meant to be posted in response to a different article.”

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