With relative success in the 2012 Presidential elections – considering Ron Paul in the Republican primary and Gary Johnson as the Libertarian candidate in the general – libertarians maintain our strongest position in modern history. With opportunity in front of us, hopes abound to create a “broader freedom movement” – a term which rankles top libertarians.
With this opportunity comes risk – specifically, the risk of being co-opted again, a la Tea Party 2010 – therein diluting an otherwise powerful message. With CPAC 2013 in the near term, the 2014 midterm elections in the – ahem – mid-term, and the 2016 Presidential election in the far-term, we should expect more posturing from establishmentarians, mostly on the Right, for their votes.
It might be tempting to reject all policy ideas that don’t immediately get us to the Promised Land, or to support policy ideas when we disagree with their proposed end states. I don’t think we have to do either/or. I believe we can work incrementally within the existing framework to build bridges and, as the minority, work our ideas upward within a broader movement, strengthening both the broader movement and ourselves.
When presented with new opportunities, the typical impulse for political movements on the Left and Right is to look for new policy positions to woo more voters. But libertarians don’t have a policy problem; we have a messaging problem.
This past Saturday, I decided to meet up with Colorado Libertarian Party members to take part in a town hall meeting at the Smoky Hill Library in Centennial, Colorado. Several members of the state legislature hosted the event: Sen. Nancy Todd (D-Sen. Dist. 28), John Buckner (D-House Dist. 40), and Su Ryden (D-House Dist. 36). Senate Majority Leader, Morgan Carroll (D-Dist.29) was a no show.
When I received the invitation, in my inbox, there were 11 others who RSVP’d to attend the event. I really had no idea if we would be the only individuals in attendance who would challenge these legislators or if we would be in good company. All I knew was all of these legislators would be Democrats in favor of most, if not all, of the gun control measures (at least in principle) being considered at the state capitol. I fully expected that we would be crashing their party.
As it turned out, the Colorado Libertarians who responded to the Meetup invitation were not the only party crashers (I’m not entirely clear on who was part of ‘our group’ and who wasn’t). Before the meeting, several of us were outside with our pro-gun rights signs. Rep. Ryden and Sen. Todd were kind enough to talk with us briefly before the meeting started.
Just before the meeting started, we were advised to write down our questions on the 3X5 cards the meeting organizers provided to us rather than take random questions from the citizens. As the meeting progressed with a small number of the questions being read, many in attendance were not too pleased with this “I thought this was supposed to be a town hall meeting,” one person complained. About halfway into the meeting after several unsatisfactory answers from the legislators concerning the right to bear arms, one elderly gentleman stormed out.
If this post got you fired up, thinking that I’m a defeatist who sees nothing good coming from the efforts of Libertarians/libertarians and other grassroots candidates, keep reading. I rarely identify a problem, oppose an idea, or “play pessimist” without having an alternative or a plan.
Anyone considering a run for office should attend meetings for that office, long before announcing or qualifying for the post. Our civic involvement should have others asking us to campaign and lead, rather than being an afterthought once already committed to running. Not only will we garner the attention and favor of those already involved, this is an opportunity to get to know the intricacies of the procedures and practices of the body, the “power players,” and to have people know you. How many of you know why your City Council or County Commission uses a “consent agenda”?
I vaguely and briefly noted my advocacy (in the aforementioned companion post) for serving in a volunteer capacity in an appointed position prior to seeking elected office, but I would like to strongly state that this is a result of involvement at the local level and a way to further build your network and name recognition in the community. Additionally, it removes the need to run strictly with a platform of philosophy and promises on which you may not be able to deliver.
Planning For the “Long Game”
Like many libertarians, I am voting for Gary Johnson. This is not because he is the candidate of the Libertarian Party. It is because he is the only candidate running who is presenting a libertarian message, who is actually dealing with reality, and who has a plan that can get us out of our current mess. Neither Romney nor Obama have shown they are willing to work with reality, have plans that can actually solve our current problems, or anything close to a libertarian message.
Specifically, I am voting for Johnson and not Romney because I do not see how voting for the GOP is going to move us anywhere closer to a libertarian future. I have heard the case made that if libertarians join with conservatives and vote for Romney, their voices will be heard in the party. But how true can that be? The party shut out Gary Johnson, then pushed away Ron Paul, and none of their policies made it into Romney’s campaign. If libertarians vote for Romney now, it will just show that we are rubes that are easily bought by rhetoric, and then can safely be ignored during the administration. There will be no message sent other than “continue as normal, they don’t really care.” But by voting third party, by voting for Gary Johnson, you sap valuable votes away, and perhaps put some states and districts into play they don’t want. Only then, only after you put them into a place of weakness, will the party ever come to the table and ask what we libertarians want. Only then will they start to move towards us.
Not before. As long as they get our votes while doing nothing more than utilizing rhetoric, they will do so—and send us further into debt, war, cronyism, and socially conservative jihads. And the only way to change that, my friends, is to vote for someone who won’t.
Not a day goes by when I get a message from a conservative telling me that I must vote for Mitt Romney, not just because a vote for Gary Johnson (or anyone other than Romney or Obama) would be a wasted vote, but that we must vote for the one guy who has a shot of defeating Obama to save our country. That we absolutely cannot vote for anyone other than Romney, because if Obama gets another four years this country will no longer exist. There’s a reason for this.
Some examples of the comments I’ve received:
We are on the preverbial roof of a house while the flood waters are rising. The rescue boat is here to help us off the roof and to drier ground. Are you going to say, no I would rather stay on the roof until a helicopter comes because I like helicopters better?
Let me be clear, Romney was not my first, second, third, fourth,or even fifth choice! But I would vote for the town drunk before I voted for Obama. As far as the status quo you say, well I think we have to STOP THE BLEEDING, you may not agree with that approach but the last four years of the wrecking ball smashing away at the economy everyday I believe we need to try a different approach. Such as getting more people back to work so there is more people paying taxes.
The thing is that there is virtually no evidence that Romney is either A) piloting the rescue boat coming to get us, or B) going to do anything to stop the bleeding. The man is very acutely interesting in expanding our military budget, while doing little to reform our bloated entitlements or actually cutting spending beyond the Corporation for Public Broadcasting—which is a good move, but not enough to save us from the black hole we’re spiraling into.
With the GOP practically snubbing Ron Paul at the convention, many liberty activists are no doubt wondering what they should do now. Should they focus on working within the GOP, or working outside it?
Is the GOP a vehicle for liberty, or is it something that libertarians should avoid? I’m tending towards the latter; as much as the Ron Paul movement has done something wonderful within the GOP, and has reawakened a liberty movement there, the past few years have shown what the GOP is really turning into. It’s not even really a conservative party any longer; it is transforming into a right-wing populist party. Holding hearings on the disastrous effects of nonexistent sharia law in America and moving to ban pornography in your platform and leading people like Todd Akin to be nominated in your races is not even conservative anymore. It’s just bonkers. The Tea Party has contributed significantly to this; I know how everyone is crowing about the Tea Party being libertarian, but let’s be honest. Maybe half of the Tea Party movement is vaguely “libertarianish.” The rest are a motley collection of right-wing populists and cultural conservatives who do believe in decreased government spending and lower debt but also are gung-ho for war (whether on drugs or terrorists) and have no problem with the government legislating private bedroom activity.
Unfortunately…it may be that libertarians will have to work with it. It pains me to say this, but outside the Gary Johnson campaign, the contemporary Libertarian Party is not doing so well. They have made many mistakes, and are not yet at the point where they can challenge either major party. That’s okay; such battles are not won overnight, but are multigenerational. Still, where to drive your resources.
Almost every time I make a pro-Gary Johnson comment on Facebook, I get something from conservatives to the effect that a vote for Gary would be a wasted vote (Or that it would be a vote for Obama.) This strikes me as utterly nonsensical. How could a vote that is quite clearly marked as for “Gary Johnson” somehow be construed as being for “Barack Obama”? And how, in a political system supposedly based on people choosing to elect those officials that best match their views, can a vote be wasted?
Indeed, there is a way in which a vote can be wasted, but not for the reasons that these folks are thinking of.
In every election, there are a number of “strategic voters”. These are folks who aren’t voting for the candidate that is most like them, but the one who they think will win. They’re gamblers who don’t want to lose, “losing” being defined as “that other guy winning.”
But, because they aren’t voting for who really represents them, the candidate who is the closest to who they are, they are truly throwing away their vote. A vote for any candidate who is not the most ideal in an election is a wasted vote, because you’re wasting the chance to stand up for your principles and what you really want.
The other day I had a brief Facebook exchange with a friend (who really is a great guy) about Ron Paul. He had posted an image that basically said Ron Paul was the next Ross Perot, and that anyone voting for Paul in November would be actually casting a vote for Obama.
There are all sorts of problems with that. First, Paul isn’t going to be on a ballot in November, so nobody will be voting for him. (Yes, I know he could be a write-in vote, if non-qualified write-in votes are allowed in a state.)
Second, the notion that Perot cost Bush the presidency is commonly argued, but the polling for that race indicated Perot took more votes from Clinton than he did from Bush. If anything, Perot kept it from being a landslide victory for Clinton. But that won’t keep your Republican friends from pointing fingers and calling names.
And finally, let’s not forget that we balanced the budget under Clinton. He wasn’t the perfect president at all, but if my vote in November – for anybody – could guarantee a balanced budget in the next few years, I’d do it in a heartbeat. Our fiscal issues have to be addressed right away if we have any hope of solving our economic woes.
But I digress. The point in all of that was that people are already blaming a man who’s not even on the ballot for a Republican loss in 2012. Then today I saw this piece that talks about how the national GOP is working to keep Paul supporters out of the convention. Keep in mind that these aren’t random supporters who decide to take a road trip to Tampa. These are delegates and alternates that have gone through the delegate process in their states.
Of all the commentary on the SCOTUS decision today, this one stood out to me. It’s from a post written by Erick Erickson over at RedState, titled “I’m Not Down on John Roberts.” (Really, at this point, who could be?) There’s one paragraph that got my attention. The italics are his; the bold is mine:
Fifth, the decision totally removes a growing left-wing talking point that suddenly they must vote for Obama because of judges. The Supreme Court as a November issue for the left is gone. For the right? That sound you hear is the marching of libertarians into Camp Romney, with noses held, knowing that the libertarian and conservative coalitions must unite to defeat Obama and Obamacare.
With all due respect, Mr. Erickson, that is balderdash.
As I have written, the entire reason that this decision was made, the entire reason that this abomination has passed, was because a conservative justice, appointed by a Republican president, made it so. In effect, Roberts pulled some random garbage out of left field with a Death Star’s tractor beam in order to make this work.
And so somehow, because a conservative had upheld this unrepetant bag of you-know-what, libertarians are going to jump to their side by electing the guy who created Obamacare’s prototype?
Excuse me, but just what in the name of the Father, Son, and the Unholy Ghost is Erick smoking?
For a group of people who follow the veritable patron saint of Austrian economics on Capitol Hill, the fans of Ron Paul don’t seem to understand the Austrian concept of “malinvestment” very well. Malinvestment, as described by the Mises Wiki, is:
Malinvestment is an investment in wrong lines of production, which inevitably lead to wasted capital and economic losses, subsequently requiring the reallocation of resources to more productive uses. “Wrong” in this sense means “incorrect” or “mistaken” from the point of view of the real long-term needs and demands of the economy, if those needs and demands were expressed with the correct price signals in the free market.
Of course, the concept applies more to commercial dealings than with efforts in the political sphere, but I think it works here too, especially when you regard recent messages from the Ron Paul faithful:
Ok so the Rand endorsement let us all down a lot along with all of the discouraging emails and videos directly from the campaign. I think for the most part we are over the hump if you know what im saying.
Now think… before all of these shenanigans how much did you believe Ron Paul could win! And remember when we realized all the delegates are unbound?! That was amazing and at that point it was the cream of the crop. We were gonna win hands down, romney has no chance in hell.
You remember all those fuzzy feelings right?