Today I received by mail “Libertarians Rising, The 2007 Annual Report of the Libertarian Party.” From the first page onward I was stunned by the overwhelming negativity of the content. “The Bush administration has plunged this nation to new depths” four paragraphs into it, then wailing away about lost rights, “useless war”, “economy into a tailspin” among others. Then complaining that the polls show congress’ ratings below those of the president.
OK, guys and gals. I don’t disagree that things could be better, but this becomes a classic example of the political left’s “hate Bush” campaign. The Democrats believe that they can win elections by whipping up hatred of George Bush, and they might be right – although I personally think they’re deluded. And for the Libertarian party to think that it can win anything at all through this negative strategy is completely loony.
I was formerly a proud Republican who campaigned for Barry Goldwater in 1964. But the Republican party repeatedly succumbed to Democrat style big government, high spending, high regulation and taxation over the years. I became convinced that by voting Republican I was being taken for granted, my wishes for smaller government ignored. So about 12 years ago I registered as a Libertarian. I never expected any Libertarian to win, but thought it might help the Republican’s to notice that their party was losing membership and support to me and my fellow Libertarians. I don’t hate Republicans, I just disagree with their in-office behavior.
Today I enthusiastically agree with the core philosophy of Libertarians. Less government, more freedom. However, there are a few issues I vehemently disagree on, and these leave me on the verge of quitting the party altogether. These appear to be areas of perhaps irreconcilable difference.
1. First and foremost, I am a patriot. I believe that the United States of America is the greatest country in the world. It has the moral obligation to use its example and its power to promote liberty worldwide. Sometimes this requires the reluctant use of force. This is unfortunate but necessary. The Libertarian Party seems to have become a pacifist party and puts down the honor of the American military. I proudly served in military combat in Vietnam, a war that was necessary and correct at the time. Whatever the debatable merits of the Iraq war today, we must back our military to victory. The American military is never defeated on the battlefield, only by our own cowardly pandering politicians. Libertarians should have none of this.
2. I believe it is the duty of every male citizen to be available, trained and ready for military service. I support the draft and universal military training. When viewed as a patriotic duty I do not believe this infringes on my liberty or that of any other citizen. As it is now, our all volunteer professional army is too easily deployed without repercussions in the society at large. With liberty comes duty and responsibility. This should not be a foreign concept to Libertarians.
3. Liberty is a human right, not just a civil right. The time has long past when it is necessary for friendly democracies to maintain borders, burden citizens with passports and regulate and tax imports. Why should it be necessary to restrict traffic between Canada, Mexico and the U.S.? Who gains from the xenophobia about Mexican workers doing work in the U.S.? Should there be travel restrictions between U.S. states? What kept the hillbillies of the Ozarks from all moving to sunny Southern California? Not borders, but culture, language, family, economics. I don’t disagree that this is a sticky problem, nor do I think an open border solution is immediately possible. But Buchananite rhetoric in Libertarian circles is unworthy and unproductive.
4. If the Libertarian party wants to win adherents it must become a party, not just of principle and rhetoric, but a party of the possible. It must provide solutions that attract support, benefits for people to vote for Libertarian candidates. The Republicans promise to improve the nation’s morals through various laws and programs. This invites those who think the other guy needs moral supervision by government. The Democrats are even more blatant, they promise effortless prosperity to the lazy. So what can and should Libertarians promise?
We can promise a lot, but we’re not doing it if this Annual Report is any indication. We should be talking about the specific measures that can be taken to lower taxes, for example. Eliminate the Department of Education and save each family in American $650 (some specific amount) per year. Eliminate the Department of X and save the family $Y in taxes. It has to be specific and realistic. Ask the voter whether he perceives any benefit at all from government program A or B. If not, what would be the benefit to the voter of eliminating the program? If all we can come up with is the nuisance of silly regulation of incandescent bulbs vs. fluorescents (a whole section of the Annual Report) nobody will take us seriously at all, nor should they. What can we propose to actually DO NOW that will benefit a citizen who votes for our candidates?
5. Scare mongering works up a crowd of believers, but it does nothing to win new voters. Yes, we’ve seen some ugly proposals including the attempt to impose “True ID” national ID cards, the idiotic but defeated “Homegrown Terrorist” legislation, among others. But the NY Fire Department story “Turning Heroes Into Spies” in the Annual Report wreaks of exaggeration and sensational innuendo. It appears to have been a popular story in ACLU and some left-wing blogs, such as Daily KOS. However scary to someone, it doesn’t belong as part of a Libertarian Party Annual Report.
From where does the Libertarian Party expect to attract the voters it needs to win elections? That’s a question we need to think about and answer honestly. As I see it, much of the thrust of libertarian rhetoric of late seems to be coming from the far left — anti-war, ACLU, hate-Bush, etc. Even acceptance of the Global Warming and Energy Crisis mantras. Other parts are coming from the right, such as Second Amendment enforcement, border enforcement, budgetary responsibility, reduced taxation. So where are the new members coming from? I suggest that we’ll find more and better recruits in the Republican camp than among Democrats. Why did Ron Paul run for president as a Republican? I don’t know, but I suspect that he perceived a chance to win as a Republican, just as he’s won multiple congressional elections with that affiliation.
By supporting left-wing causes and rhetoric we’ll discourage conversions from the Republican party and probably pick up a minority of enthusiastic “activists” from the left. This doesn’t help us to promote a smaller government agenda and isn’t any way to win elections.
As for me, I’ve outlined a few disagreements I perceive to exist between my own philosophy and what is apparently the current Libertarian orthodoxy. Nobody agrees with everything his political organization espouses, and no political organization behaves, once in office, exactly as it promises to do. However, each member is free to come and go based on the level of comfort he feels in the affiliation. I guess I haven’t decided yet.