Drug legalization doesn't raise eyebrows anymore. School choice, likewise, is old hat and even homeschooling is too mainstream to be called cutting edge. Gun control is stalled like a Third Way economy, privatization isn't nearly the controversy it used to be, and megacorporations, not usually champions of the free market, are calling for carbon trading.
It's clear that libertarian think tanks and issue advocacy groups are getting our ideas taken seriously, but the result has mainly been statists adding free minds and free markets to their toolbox.
Politicians without libertarian values are not going to set aside their agendas to advance ours. Nonlibertairans may borrow our ideas, but they will not set us free. To move policy in the libertarian direction, we must either elect libertarians to office or be enough of a threat at the polls to force nonlibertarians to make concessions to earn our votes.
In short, we need a libertarian political party.
*End Losertarian Strategy*
After over 30 years, the Libertarian Party can boast slightly over 500 incumbent officeholders, a sad number when compared to the Socialist Party at its peak, let alone to the Democratic or Republican parties, but not surprising considering how many Libertairans run to lose. Expecting defeat may be realism, but adoption of defeat as a strategy is madness.
Most of the LP's best-funded and most professional campaigns are waged by candidates who'd like the LP to be a political party but would rather it not be a libertarian one. I don't mean that the candidates aren't libertarian, but rather that they assume that libertarian positions, no matter how well-tuned to the race, are nonwinners. Usually their strategy is to gain office as center-right Republican Lite candidates, emphasizing guns and taxes, downplaying civil liberties and civil society, and throwing in a privatization scheme as a libertarian token.
This wins dinner invites from Republicans and perhaps a morsel of respect from the press for having practical ideas. However, Duverger's Law virtually guarantees that of two nearly redundant candidates, voters who prefer the weaker of the pair will cast their votes for the stronger. Thus the Republican Lite strategy doesn't even make for good spoilers.
Opposite the Lite Republicans are the outright defeatists, who've given up on reform through politics altogether. Their preferred strategy is to use the speaking opportunities and press contacts that result from Party nomination to preach ideology. They're joined in this by a faction whose dogmas prohibit carrying out the duties of political office and rule out all policy solutions. One group has given up on attaining liberty in our lifetime and the other is ideologically opposed to it, favoring mass ideological conversion generations from now.
Running center-right campaigns hasn't produced results, and using a political party to promote ideology is like chiseling with a screwdriver, ruining the tool and not getting the job done. Neither strategy elects libertarians to office or forces concessions from nonlibertarians.
Liberate the Libertarian Party!
In order to win at the polls or even to be a credible enough threat to move the other parties in a libertarian direction, the Libertarian Party will have to appeal to a far broader coalition—20-30% of the population—instead of the 1-4% who curretly vote for our candidates every year.
If the LP were a big enough tent to appeal to the existing base of self-identifying libertarians, it'd be off to a good start. Most libertarians are politically homeless, either having been driven to leave the LP out of frustration, or never having been welcome in the first place.
Since the LP is one of the few refuges in the libertarian movement for devotees of the "Pop Libertarianism" of Rothbard and Rand, people leaving isn't always seen as being a bad thing. Better to have a vanguard party, or perahps a minivan party, of folks who will advocate nothing that conflicts with the Nonititiation of Force dogma—no taxes, no courts, no government—and be rid of those infidel socialists from the lower 99 points of the Nolan Chart who dilute the term "libertarian".
The public tells us that our stances on the issues are either lacking or too wild and that they can't trust us to govern responsibly. The minivan faction, on the other hand, says "more" and "harder" are the keys to success, and when the last impure occupant of the Ford Windstar gets ditched at 7-11, the gods will smile and Man will live without having to initiate force.
The libertarian base will not be built not by chasing from the Libertarian Party all but a small core of activists who repeat the same tired and oversimplified positions. Discouraging bona fide libertarians from joining or participating is clearly incompatible with the operation of a political party and should no longer be tolerated.
That joining the LP in most states involves signing what to many is a statement that "I certify I am an impatient anarchist" contributes to the problem. At least one of the authors of the Libertarian Party Pledge is on record saying it exists not to keep out minarchists but to clarify that the LP is not a violent revolutionary organization. Is such a statement really necessary anymore? The LP is more likely to be confused with a debating society than with the Weathermen. The Pledge, misinterpreted or not, does more harm than good and needs to go.
Even when a candidate runs a serious, solidly libertarian campaign, the LP makes things harder with a libertopian, anarchist platform. Journalists read it and it colors their coverage. Voters read it and it scares them. One of the best tactics to use against a Libertarian is the Platform Attack—asking the candidate to defend some of the wilder proposals—and some successful attack ads have consisted of little more than platform excerpts.
The 2004 rewrite of the Platform is far better than its juvenile, deliberately offensive predecessor, but it remains more manifesto than platform, preserving libertopianism in its "solution" sections. A candidate defending against the Platform Attack by offering his own policy positions is second-guessed; people wonder what he "really" believes.
Given the libertarian movement's ideological diversity and professed love of dynamism, the best rewrite might be "strike all." Let LP candidates write their own platforms unencumbered by a room full of ideologues who've decided for them if Libertarians should really support flat taxes or carbon trading.
Ten Thousand Ben Brandons
Back in Fall 2004, in probably the most recent significant Libertarian success story, Ben Brandon, running on a solidly libertarian and unquestionably relevant platform, was elected to the position of Dade County, GA executive, as a Libertarian in a partisan race.
Minivan Party Libertairans say that this either can't be done by a "real" libertarian, or that it shouldn't be done. Local offices—city councilman, zoning commissioner, county supervisor—all of those awful positions that require spending tax money and telling people what they can do with their property, are supposed to offer no opportunity to expand freedom or decrease the size and scope of government. It's better that Libertarians not run for such offices, lest people get confused and think that anything other than taking a wrecking ball to Town Hall is acceptable.
However, we don't hear Dade County libertairans complaining of being less free due to Brandon's election. Residents of Moreno Valley, CA and Tomah, WI aren't griping about liberty lost due to the tenures of Bonnie Flickinger and Ed Thompson, either. And if getting elected brings discredit to the Libertarian movement, it isn't getting any press.
Local races are also far cheaper in money and activist-hours than a run at Congress or the governor's mansion, and as Ben Brandon and the hundreds of other elected Libertarians prove, they're winnable. Lack of the creativity needed to apply libertarian principles to real-world problems or the courage needed to replace impossible-to-satisfy scruples with liveable principles on the part of a vocal and aggressive minority shouldn't discourage other libertarians from running.
Positions of great influence entail responsibility; people aren't going to trust unknowns to make the big decisions, let alone unknowns from third parties, and especially not unknowns from third parties whose Platforms call for the repeal of all taxation and the immediate elimination of the EPA. If the LP is to be the credible political threat libertarians need, it needs local officeholders ready to run for state legislatures and Congress—and there's no doubting that having ten thousand more Ben Brandons would be beneficial in itself.
As the past thirty-five years have shown us, neither pop philosophy nor the soundest arguments will bring the public to hold libertarian principles. The only way to prove we're right is to show them how we govern.