by N. A. Halkides 11/5/13
Part 2, The Politics • In Part 1, I expressed my opinion that Libertarianism had nothing to offer: no new ideas and no coherent political program. Nonetheless, the movement has attracted some followers – we veterans of National Review Online often encountered them in the comments section, where they would regale us with something like “If only you would give up trying to impose your social views, I might be able to support your economic ideas.” Their offers of support were typically and noticeably lukewarm, leaving one with the impression that even if we did everything they asked, they still might decide to go with a third party or simply stay home on Election Day. Not all of them considered themselves Libertarian – some imagined themselves as true, ideal Conservatives. Sometimes I would try to explain to these fellows, puffed up with their oh-so-superior alleged Libertarian principles, that apart from the merits of the Conservative position, as a practical matter they needed us more than we needed them, and when crunch time came around, we found we couldn’t depend on the “fiscal conservative, social liberal” for much support even on purely fiscal issues. Let us now try to quantify the extent of the support in this country for the Libertarian program.
To begin with, there is a Libertarian Party. According to its website it was founded on Dec. 11, 1971. The Party’s history is expressed in glowing terms that imply Libertarianism is gathering steam. But here are their own vote totals for the Libertarian Presidential ticket from 1976 to 2008:
It takes no advanced statistical analysis to see that the Libertarian Party is going nowhere – after a flash in the pan in 1980 (one that fortunately did not prevent Ronald Reagan from defeating Jimmy Carter), its Presidential vote totals have held fairly steady – and in a period of growing population. No doubt there are young Libertarians being added, but only enough to replace the old Libertarians dying off. Yet Libertarian “leaders” (almost an oxymoron given their anarchistic tendencies) always see victory as just around the corner. In this they are as optimistic as and far more delusional than the Republican Establishment, for if Libertarianism were going to take the world by storm it would surely have done so by now – try to think of a successful national political movement, good or bad, that took more than 43 years to get off the ground! The Republican Party was formed in 1853 and by 1858 had taken both houses of the Illinois State Legislature and was a formidable power throughout the northern states; in 1903 the Bolsheviks may have been merely a splinter group of the old Marxist Russian Social Democratic Labor Party (which really needed its name shortened), but fourteen years later in 1917 they were running the entire country.
I could not check the makeup of all 50 state legislatures, but I think it’s accurate to say that each house of every legislature is controlled by either Republicans or Democrats, so that Libertarians are not even the junior partner in any coalition. This is not to say that the Libertarian Party has had no political effect at all, or that it could not affect the outcome of a future Presidential election – a point to which I’ll return later – but it is obvious that as a political movement it has been a complete failure. We must now inquire as to why it has failed so badly.
Individual voters are motivated by a variety of factors, self-interest being one and an emotional attachment to a particular candidate being another. But for a political party to motivate millions of people to passionately support it, it has to have both a comprehensive political program and be able to convince people that this program is right as well as practical – in other words, morality matters. This is true especially on the Left, where the self-righteousness of Democratic supporters has become insufferable, because without an emotional conviction that they were somehow doing right no one other than the direct recipients of income-transfer payments could support its bankrupt statist ideology, but it is true for Republicans also, whose noticeable lack of any moral arguments contributes to the tepid support Republican voters often give the party. In the last election, for instance, Democratic voters loved Obama and Obamacare, many stupidly believing that socialized medicine would usher in a new, utopian era; Republican voters cold-bloodedly calculated that Romney was the better man but never for moment thought that a President Romney would do more than get the economy somewhat back on track and perhaps regain some of the country’s international respect forfeited by Obama. The lack of pro-Romney passion may not have been the deciding factor, but it certainly worked against Republicans, especially with middle-class voters who didn’t follow politics particularly closely and who couldn’t be persuaded of the importance of turning out for Romney.
The Libertarian Party has a small contingent of fanatical true-believers, but a value-neutral party is simply unable to inspire a mass movement on its behalf. Its program is comprehensive but incoherent as stated in Part 1; therefore most of its supporters hold equally incoherent political views and simply dislike both the Republican and Democratic Parties. More seriously, they dislike Conservatism, sharing the same misconceptions about it the Left has. Some of them want a liberalization of drug laws (favored by many Conservatives also, it should be noted); others want less involvement in foreign wars (ditto, although Libertarians tend to be naïve at best about the degree to which it is possible for a nation to withdraw inside its own borders in the modern world); some are looking for a non-judgmental atmosphere in which they can “come out” with almost any manner of sexual fetish; many are simply emotion-driven like a petulant teenager crying out “Leave me alone!” to his parents through his bedroom door.
The Libertarian Party’s search for supporters is much like a 19th-century ship’s captain scrounging through seedy waterfront bars for deckhands. Having picked up a perpetual student here, a sexual deviant there, a pothead there, an isolationist there, and an I-refuse-to-grow-up-now-leave-me-alone case of arrested development over there, it presents this motley crew as the vanguard of a national, nay, an international political movement! But it’s not: it’s a group of misguided people who think they believe in liberty together with a collection of misfits, kooks, and cranks. It is to the former group that I would like to make a final plea as a Conservative.
To Mr. and Ms. Libertarian: if you truly value your freedom or any part of it, I must ask you to do two things: (1) honestly calculate how much you can realistically achieve as Libertarians, and (2) take another look at the Conservative movement, which you seriously misunderstand.
How much can the Libertarian Party actually do to advance the cause of liberty? Not much. While I’m aware there have been Libertarians elected to some city council or other, your party holds very few offices, and for the reasons I’ve outlined, that isn’t about to change in 2016 or even in 2066. The only effect you can possibly have is to cause the election of more Democrats, as indeed you already have, for example in the 2000 race for Senate in Washington State between Slade Gorton (R) and Maria Cantwell (D). The final vote totals there? Gorton 1,197,208; Cantwell 1,199,437; Jared (the Libertarian) 64,734. In other words, Gorton lost to Cantwell by 2229 votes, and had even 4% of those who voted Libertarian in a childish fit of pique cast their ballots instead for Gorton, he would have won the race. It is theoretically possible that a Libertarian Presidential candidate, who could not win even one electoral vote let alone the Presidency, might nonetheless pull enough votes from a Republican to elect a Democrat. (Gary Johnson’s 1% in 2012 would not have been enough to put Romney, at 47%, over Obama’s 51%, but such a scenario is by no means inconceivable).
If your response is a smug “Good – the sooner Republicans are gone, the sooner the Libertarian Party can rise!” you’re quite simply dreaming. To replace the GOP, a third party would first have to annihilate it and then reconstruct most of the same Republican coalition around a new banner – there simply aren’t enough non-Republicans to form a viable third party by themselves. We Conservatives, who are a majority with the GOP, could conceivably do that with an enormous effort (and some Conservatives think we should try), but you Libertarians could not. All you could do is help the Democrats – and remember, every Democrat believes in robbing you of your property rights, your gun rights, even your freedom of speech. Is that what you wish to enable? An America in which you somehow manage to cripple the GOP would resemble California, where Democrats are firmly in control and are proceeding to destroy the state while Republicans are helpless to stop them, and with Libertarians standing on the sidelines as a debating society but not a political force.
This brings us to the question of raw strength: your Party has something like 235,500 registered voters out of 153 million in the U.S (0.15%). Conservatives alone are 40% of the country (based on Gallup polling) or over 26 times your strength of numbers, while the GOP has approximately 42% or 28 times your strength, plus a far greater appeal to independent voters. These numbers are a little difficult to reconcile since Conservatives are probably 70% of the GOP but not 95% of it; however, they are close enough for our present purposes. We are far larger, stronger, better organized and better financed than you are; do you seriously expect us to dissolve the Republican Party, or even the Tea Party, and join the Libertarian Party? Without us, you have no chance of stopping the Democratic Leviathan; with us, you just might. And make no mistake – if you really do value your freedom, it is the Democratic Party which is your primary enemy.
Now it is true that Establishment Republicans are only marginally better than Democrats, but you’re forgetting about the Conservative movement, which you greatly misunderstand. Here is John Jay Myers in an essay, Why Libertarian? discussing the reasons he thinks the Republican Party cannot be changed:
“But my question is, where do you think all the hardcore neo-con nanny staters are going to go? They simply are not leaving the GOP. Those people believe we need to outlaw masturbation and have constant wars with half the world regardless of the cost or the lack of sense that it makes. Those people believe being fiscally conservative is not good enough – they have to tell people how to live their lives, and in some cases die.”
This passage reads as though it had been written by a hardcore Left-winger; it constructs the same fictional theocratic bogeyman urban progressives probably use to scare their children at bedtime. Note the same careless use of the undefined and misused term “neo-con” and the same extravagant claims about Conservatives. Except for John McCain, I can’t think of any Republicans, much less Conservatives, who want to have “constant wars with half the world”, nor do I recall Victor Davis Hanson or Andrew McCarthy (or even Rick Santorum) calling for a masturbation ban. And if you don’t recognize the names “Hanson” and “McCarthy”, you simply don’t know enough about modern American Conservatism to have an opinion.
The fact is that if Conservatives were in control of the Republican Party, it would be vastly improved. Most of the free-market ideas you attempt to claim as “Libertarian” are in fact part of classic liberalism, and therefore Conservatism. We Conservatives have traveled the same free-market road as you, but we were there first, something it would benefit you to acknowledge. Since I covered all this (at what I fear may have been tedious length) in Part 1, I’m going to bottom-line it for you: the Democratic Party is now wholly totalitarian in its ideology; Conservatism, the closest thing to an ideology the Republican Party has, is fundamentally anti-totalitarian, and it is this fact you need to come to grips with. Your choices are exactly two: join with Conservatives in taking over the GOP and moving it in the direction of freedom (I will not say “Libertarianism”), or continue on as you have since 1971, serving as at best an irrelevant factor and at worst a helpmate to the Left.
You say you just can’t stomach our views on drugs (where many of us are on your side), same-sex “marriage”, or abortion? Then you’d better grow up a bit and ask yourselves this: is it so important to legalize marijuana, tear down an institution that pre-dates history, or kill babies that you’re willing to sacrifice every other right to causes like those? Join us in stopping the Progressive Left, or enjoy your “triumph” as they legalize these things (in the case of abortion, expand it to even more obvious forms of infanticide) and strip you of your property, your guns, and even your freedom to advocate Libertarian ideas, because that’s where they’re headed. You can bet your life on it – and you are.