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Libertarians and the eternal questions
Posted by: McQ on Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Ryan Sager asks them:
But, of course, no one ever said that libertarians were organized — or that, when it comes to politics, they have much in the way of brains.

But what if they did? How powerful a voting bloc could they be?
Let's go with the second question first:
[S]omewhere between 9 percent and 20 percent of the electorate.

The 20 percent figure comes from Gallup, which labels as libertarian voters who say they oppose the use of government either to "promote traditional values" or to "do too many things that should be left to individuals and businesses." Gallup finds an equal number of populists (people who want more government intervention in both the economy and the culture). And it finds that 27 percent of Americans are conservative and 24 percent are liberal.

The 9 percent figure comes by way of a recent analysis done by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press. Last month, Pew released an analysis, based on a survey of 2,000 people, which was aimed at finding the ideologues among the American voting public — those voters who held consistent ideological views on a sampling of subjects, such as health care, gay marriage and Social Security reform.
That's a bit of a spread. The spread, in my estimation, is the result of differing definitions of "libertarian", with the Gallup definition most likely being broader than Pew's.

While Gallup finds 27% identifying themselves as conservative and 24% liberal, Pew again has different numbers:
Libertarians were the smallest group, as defined by Pew, followed by conservatives (15 percent), populists (16 percent) and liberals (18 percent). A full 42 percent of voters held no identifiable ideology (these are presumably the people who vote for whomever's tallest).
The answer, presumably, is somewhere in the middle. Assuming that for the sake of argument, a voting bloc of 15% isn't anything to sneeze at ... if it is indeed a "bloc". But with libertarians that is seldom the case, and that, of course is a reason why a reasonably sized ideological contingent continues to languish on the political sidelines.

Trying to get individualists to work as a collective is a bit like herding cats. And that is the eternal problem with libertarians in general.

But most of us know that. Sager shares other news which comes from these polls as well ... a shift in who libertarians now support as it pertains to the "big two" of political parties:
Perhaps the most interesting fact in the Pew survey, however, was that less than 6 in 10 libertarians voted for Bush in 2004. While few libertarians seem to have deserted the president between 2000 and 2004, they are split roughly evenly between the two parties. The Pew survey finds 50 percent of libertarians identifying as Republicans, 41 percent as Democrats.

Given that libertarians' traditional home has been in the conservative base of the Republican Party for about five decades, as part of a strained partnership with social conservatives, their almost 50-50 split between the two parties today is big news.
I'd agree, if I was sure that those who identify themselves as "Democrats" are, in fact, libertarians. It's a bit like those who claim there exists such an animal as a "big government conservative". I say it is a political oxymoron. And for the most part, I have the same difficulty buying into a Libertarian Democrat, given the fact that the Democratic party of today is a big-government party. I don't doubt that there are some who identify with the Democratic party who have libertarian leanings on some issues. But does that make them libertarians?

However, Sager is right when he says libertarians have mostly identified with economic conservatives on the right who hang out in the Republican party. It is within that group that the most common ground is found between the two ideologies.

Neolibertarinism is an effort to influence that group and work within the existing political structure to incrementally change the way government does business. If you're someone who demands instant gratification, it probably isn't for you. The saying "two steps forward and one back" would characterize the effort well. So I'd say, that we obviously fall on the 50% side which identifies more closely with the right, and particularly the economic conservatives of the right. That is why, for the most part, we're waved off as "libertarian leaning Republicans" by many who haven't looked beyond the surface of what neolibertarianism is about.

Anyway, back to Sager's second question: can libertarians be organized.

The short answer is "no". Heck, the long answer is "no". It is simply not an ideology which lends itself to collective organization (no matter how hard we try). The Libertarian Party is proof of that claim.
That, of course, gets to the question of whether a bunch of individualists can ever be organized. A man who should know a little about that, the Cato Institute's executive vice president, David Boaz, tells two stories. In one, a man wouldn't come to a rally for 1980 Libertarian Party presidential candidate Ed Clark because he had to look at his sister-in-law's car. In another, a man skipped a rally at the 1984 Democratic convention in San Francisco because he had a more pressing engagement ... in a hot tub.

"I think libertarians are looking at their sister-in-law's car, instead of going to political meetings," Boaz says. "And there are also libertarians who are in hot tubs in Sausalito." These may seem like small things, Boaz argues, but the cumulative effect is that people who don't care much for government are the hardest to convince to care about changing it.
Individualism is both the strength and curse of the ideology. It forms the core of the principles which underly libertarianism and also all but demands those who accept it eschew collectivism in any form, to include a collective effort to better establish a government focused on individuals and their rights. And for a particular wing of the movement, ideological purity has become much more important than any effort to effectively influence the politics of today which daily effects their lives. But if history teaches us anything, it is that the libertarian basis of this country's original government came from a group of real individualists who managed to put that problem aside and got together to form it.

There is no such thing as a libertarian "bloc" today because of the implied heresy such a notion brings. And, much like the political correctness which infects and limits debate outside of libertarian circles, this is a subject most libertarians simply won't entertain. It's a pity. Whether libertarians like it or not, the other 85% participating in politics will effect and influence their lives when they vote. And while it may feel good to say "I had nothing to do with this mess", it's a pretty ineffective way to fight that which is indeed effecting everyone. Politics and voting don't go away because libertarians don't like to play.

Can they be organized? Probably not. Like I said, it's the nature of the beast. But our individual rights and liberties are all the poorer because of that.
 
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Well, as I’ve said before "libertarian" would be great if they stood a chance. In the decision between Democrats wanting to control a lot of my money and Republicans wanting to control my morality/life choices, I’ll cede some money; though it’s a crappy choice to have to make.

I suspect a lot of the other "libertarian Dems" agree with that sentiment. And with Republicans increasingly wanting more of my money than Dems, it becomes a no brainer. With the national debt rising faster under Bush II and Reagan than Clinton, I think "Big Government Republican" is redundant.
 
Written By: Tito
URL: http://
To excerpt and paraphrase mt text from an email I sent to another person recently:

"You raise good points."

And with respect to persons who self identify as "libertarians" and have managed to justify pulling the lever for a Democrat, ever:

"I believe that recently..."

They, "libertarian" Democrats have,

"...been afflicted with the idea that there are so many voters, roughly 1/2 of them, in this country who vote Democrat that the Democratic Party must have some good ideas. They seem to be unable to see them to be the wholly unprincipled patronage party that they are—or at least, what principles they have that distinguish them from the Republicans are ones that should not be promulgated."

Mona recently mentioned the Democrats are nowhere near to breaking up—horsehockey.

You can identify about three major blocs in the Republican party, and what, about 19 or more?, in the Democratic party. There are broad memetic similarities evident in all but the most doctrinaire individuals in the Republican blocs, and all that hangs the Democratic party together that I can see is what bacon the DNC can bring home which is important to those respective groups. As the Democrats continue to lose elections, that is no bacon at all.

In the foreseeable future, the Democratic party is by far the most vulnerable to breakup. Several of its disparate constituencies have interests very far from the electoral center of gravity, and many of them have 0, zip, zilch, nada interest in anything other than majoritarian politics at best, and no interest in treating people as individuals with human rights. The worst of the Republican constituencies are interested in recreating by law certain limited aspects of the culture from which a respect for the concept of individual liberties evolved. The conflicts which caused that evolution are unresolved, in short.

The worst of the Republican party is where this nation has come from, memetically, and a more perfect union can be had from that foundation.

The best of the Democratic party is majoritarian and wholly incompatible with individual liberties, it respects only when it has not noticed how to profit by their destruction. The worst of the Democratic party is frankly totalitarian, and enjoys an outlook on the world made up of a revolutionary dialectic.

There is a reason Ron Paul got into Congress as a Republican.

Yours, TDP, ml, msl, & pfpp
 
Written By: Tom Perkins
URL: http://
It’s also worth throwing into the mix that there’s a certain amount of rigging of the game by the two major parties. While Ross Perot showed that this is not an insuperable obstacle, I can personally attest to the fact that the combined media/political establishment makes it very hard to mount a serious political effort as a pure libertarian.

The politicians and their bureaucratic lackeys put up artificial obstacles to ballot access, campaign finance, etc. The media treats anyone that holds opinions so far away from their own as wackos undeserving of coverage.

Combine that with all the difficulties outlined in the post, and I have come to the conclusion that it’s well and truly pointless to sink any effort into a liberatarian third party. The problem is, I can’t think of an alternative. I consider having any signficant influence on either of the two major parties to be as much a fantasy as organizing a third party.

I have to stop thinking about this now. It always makes me despair when I realize the quandry libertarians are in. I feel like a caged animal searching for an exit.
 
Written By: Billy Hollis
URL: http://
"Combine that with all the difficulties outlined in the post, and I have come to the conclusion that it’s well and truly pointless to sink any effort into a liberatarian third party."

The solution is to destroy the current duopoly by taking out the Democrats. Destroy that party and enough comes into play that the "Other Party" can be one centered around memes of decentralization and restricting the national government to strictly Constitutional activities. Voiding the 17th amendment, fully informed juries, taxation without social engineering (a misnomer if ever there was one), flat taxation, etc.

It won’t happen until the applecart is upset.

Yours, TDP, ml, msl, & pfpp
 
Written By: Tom Perkins
URL: http://
It would also be nice if those libertarians prone to organizing - say for a Presidential run - would then campaign in a manner that actually gave them a chance to win. Saying things like "I would tear up the Federal Register in my first 100 days" is not going to win elections. Neither is running on a platform disproportionately focused on legalizing drugs. I suspect that’s what Sager means when he says "no one ever said that libertarians...when it comes to politics, they have much in the way of brains."
 
Written By: Unknown
URL: http://
Great.

Let’s discuss a practical plan for moving forward. "Destroying" the country’s oldest party is wishful thinking, not solid planning.

Be creative. Libertarians are, for obvious reasons, perhaps the worst herd animal in American politics, behind even the apathetic voter.
And yet, a majority of the American people believe the government is so big and powerful that it threatens our rights and freedoms. In the abstract, most people readily agree that something is wrong, that the government intrudes on our lives too much, that it is not accountable enough, that taxes suck.

When it comes down to the line, though — and I mean down to specific issues — that abstract agreement evaporates. Social Security, Medicare, welfare, public education, wage laws, protectionism — these things have a great deal of public support, particularly among those who are already dependent on them.

So how do we connect the abstract with the real?
I think it’s pretty clear that you can’t do this through a party, not just yet. The major parties have experts, lawyers, a significant locked-in partisan base, and existing organization, and they have all of them in spades.

The thing to do is, target just the people who are likely to agree with you on any given issue. They don’t even need to self-identify as libertarian, just as people who occasionally oppose government action. This means organization of different people at different times, not getting full political participation from the vast majority of people we want on our side at any given time.

Luckily, we have just the tools for the job today. We don’t have to waste our time and money on direct mail to geriatrics trying to convince them that Social Security is a threat to the country’s future.
Parties require tons of mainstream media coverage. Organizations that contact their constituency directly don’t.
Parties require obscene amounts of money. Contact organizations, not so much. We’re talking a difference of a couple orders of magnitude.
Parties require candidates who are willing to run under their name. Contact organizations don’t.

Now, there are already fiscally conservative and fairly libertarian organizations out there, including think tanks. Why haven’t they accomplished this already?
First of all, as a result of libertarian balkanization, they waste an awful lot of time and money on duplicative efforts. They’re all targeting virtually the same crowd — asking the same people for money and preaching to the same choir.
Secondly, that choir is the one that already agrees with them on most of the issues, meaning they’re just trying to make the converted even more doctrinaire. The real fight is exploiting the far larger body of people who don’t swallow the whole program but will agree with you on a few issues (or even only one!) and getting them to coordinate their actions with the libertarian "base." This way they don’t stir the hornet’s nest of doctrinaire libertarians who simply will not brook the formal introduction of the doctrinally impure into their ranks.

To cement these short-term allies into a longer-term arrangement, libertarians must become much less frightening to the average person. It’s a matter of convincing new and existing libertarians that there is more to be gained from a big tent than an exclusive club (I know, it’s a Herculean task). The ties with those short-term allies can be made regular and, if we ever stood a chance in the first place, can be made into a more formal political body at some point in the future, when we have the numbers to actually make a difference rather than simply giving up our influence on the major parties altogether.

I think this starts with coordinating the scattered libertarian (and allied) organizations into a more unified political arm focused not on total conversion but on temporary mobilization of the many different factions of the existing parties. Republicans didn’t chip away at the Democratic juggernaut and build their big tent by insisting right away on total conversion. Instead, they used the issues of the day — race, Vietnam/Communism, and changing economic demographics — to initially separate people from the Democrat Party who didn’t "belong" in that coalition really anyway... then cemented the ties by providing the alternative position on a slew of social issues like abortion and law and order.
Only this way could the fusionist agenda come into fruition.

Neolibertarianism faces the same basic task, but with different issues, in a different political climate, and with newer, more powerful tools available for the job.
But then, Jon’s talked about those tools before.
 
Written By: OrneryWP
URL: http://
By what measure do you consider the democrats the party of big government? If you look at number of employees, amount of money spent, domestic spying, or the accumulation of power in the executive branch it is really clear that it is the republicans that are the party of big government.

Republican libertarians just believe the republican rhetoric.
 
Written By: cindyb
URL: http://
Speaking of eternal questions.

Now this is rich.
 
Written By: Neo
URL: http://
CindyB, did you miss out on FDR and LBJ and the "Great Society", yes Nixon and Dubya love it too, more than I but they came about under DEMOCRATIC Administrations, that portion of your History book must have been torn out. Yes under Clinton the number of Federal employees shrank, by ~3000IIRC, but they came about thru the RIF in DoD that saw 250,000 thousand troops and about 200,000 DoD employees go away...

I think you mistake a portion of the Republican ethos, though. We do believe in a large and powerful state... the National Security State. It doesn’t bother me if DoD has has a LOT of troops and a LOT of power, or the CIA or the NSA for that matter. Most Republicans have little kick with that. It’s one thing that distinguishes us from libertarians and Democrats. Democrats don’t like DoD, except as pork and only when it’s used by the UN. Libertarians, just don’t like government, so DoD, DHS, or HHS it’s all pretty much the same to them.

And that’s a view we think of as "Originalist", BTW. The Founding Fathers wanted a POWERFUL Federal Government, powerful in a FEW areas, in its ability to levy war, regulate interstate commerce, coin money, and conduct foreign affairs. That sets us apart from libertarians, of many stripes who don’t believe in a POWERFUL government at all. I and other Republicans say that government is too BIG, not too POWERFUL. By definition government is more powerful than the individual. The "State" can use violence, proactively... the State can KILL you. An individual may not proactively be violent and is limited in his/her ability to use deadly force.

So, as I said, by definition, the State is powerful, and our nation was founded on the concept of the POWERFUL state. The difference is that originally the State governments and the Federal governments were powerful, but had differing jobs and oft times were at loggerheads with one another. The Fed’s ought not be in the business of farm subsidies, HOWEVER your State may well chose to. The Federal government ought not be in the business of regulating abortions, your state government however, could.....Because health, education and public morals were traditionally regulated by States. Any way, just a point about the Powerful State and libertarian thought.
 
Written By: Joe
URL: http://
And I realize that folks here, by-and-large will do it, but be a little leery of the phrase, "libertarian". I may chose to support NORML, but I might not vote for Badnarik, because I want Universal Health Care. Some folks might be libertarian who are pro-choice or pro-euthanasia, but who are also like Glasnost in his/her views on CEO compensation and may well vote for Pelosi and her ilk.

The fact that I might fall into a certain category on a certain issue does not make me a candidate for recruitment into any sort of "libertarian" movement, Big "L", little "l", neo-"l"....It depends on an overall view of government’s role and function and where the ’libertaian impulse falls on my hierarchy of values. I might be libertarian on taxes, BUT National Defense may trump that concern, so I will vote on the party that does the best job on National Defense, I would only vote libertarian if ALL parties had an equivalent position on Defense and taxes became the "tie-breaker". I believe that 22% figure for the populace falls into this category, IF the Democrats and the Republicans were tied on all issues until the Libertarian issue, THEN that person might vote for some sort of libertarian candidate. But that tie-breaker will vary from individual to indvidual, so it might be difficult to achieve a libertarian victory on the basis of agregating tie-breaking positions. I’d bet the 9% are folks like me, yeah we think that the LP is crazy, but that Cato has some good ideas, though some of them are crazy too, but we know that voting for Badnarik is a waste of time and a vote, so we operate within a party, be it D or R.

IF libertarians/Libertarians really want to make a difference in this country, get a track record, run something. Don’t tell me about the 1200 Libertarians in positions of government in the US. Point out ONE city, county, school board RUN BY Libertarians...much less a state or state legislature, because you can’t. Get a governor elected, run a city or county, DO something and THEN mayhap folks’ll give you guys a whirl. Right now you get an aggregate .3% of the vote or less. 9% of MIGHT vote Libertarian, IF there was some track record of success, but right now the libertarian impulse is wasted. The best part of it is Cato, IMO. It makes concrete proposals for action. It’s got a plan, too bad it has no politicians to execute its plans. My advice get some libertarian politicians to execute some Cato ideas. Everyone will learn from the experience, to include the Libertarians.
 
Written By: Joe
URL: http://
Libertarians are smarties; they would much prefer to participate in a philosophical movement than a political party, which pretty much explains the LP (myself being a member for almost 20 years, until 9/11/2001). The metanarrative generated by the Libertarians is thus necessarily small and rigid.

Political parties, to be popular, must be large enough that people can align themselves with the meta-narrative of the party, because parties are supposed to be tents, not custom split-level ranch homes. So a party doesn’t necessarily need to reflect the total will of it’s members in exact detail, it merely needs to be assembled as a package, a framework, that is large enough upon which to pitch a big tent.

You guys call it Neolibertarianism. I call it Liberal Capitalism. Both = libertarianism + Jacksonianism. The result can be summed up as liberty, prosperity, and confidence.

yours/
peter.
 
Written By: Peter Jackson
URL: http://www.liberalcapitalist.com
Yeah its real hard to put labels, I am happy with the title NEO libertarian, but not pure libertarian. I would also be happy with being called a pragmatist. Although I confess to have a few paleoconservative moments. I know many other people who have similar views to mine, except for the drug issue, that one still has most of my friends in mind lock.
 
Written By: kyle N
URL: http://impudent.blognation.us/blog
What Joe said.
 
Written By: Unaha-closp
URL: http://
"The Founding Fathers wanted a POWERFUL Federal Government, powerful in a FEW areas, in its ability to levy war, regulate interstate commerce, coin money, and conduct foreign affairs."

See, uumm actually no. The founding fathers, sorry "Founding Fathers", didn’t want the federal government to be able to even keep a standing army! They meant zero federal military, except during official wars as declared by congress.
 
Written By: Tito
URL: http://
Tito, the problem with your assertion is that the Founders specifically made the National government the paramount authority in several areas of law, and they certainly intended them to have an army whenever they needed it to enforce those powers.

Witness George Washington leading the army into battle against the Whisky Rebellion. Now I wish the government hadn’t been given that power, but there’s no reasonable debate as to whether the national governemnt was supposed to be very powerful or not.

In some areas of law, its power was intended to be absolute and lethal—sovereign is the word.

Yours, TDP, ml, msl, & pfpp
 
Written By: Tom Perkins
URL: http://
It’s late on this thread, but Tom Perkins nails it and you’re wrong... like many "libertarians" you have a copy of the Constitution that you LIKE, not the one that exists(ed). It is INARGUABLE that the "government" created within the Constitution is ALL-powerful in certain areas.... those areas were delegated to certain levels of government, Federal or state, but IN THOSE AREAS THE GOVERNMENT IS ALL POWERFUL.
Also Tito, unless by "military" you’re using a term of art to refer to a ground force, commonly called "the Army". The US Constituion mandates a miltary... Congress "shall.. a Navy." Last time I checked the Navy was in the military. It was not that the Founders mandated "Zero spending" they simply did not mandate spending on an Army, though the Congress could field one if it saw fit. So your point is actually really very wrong even within the context of the text of the US Constitution. Get one and read it, it’ll help when you debate its finer points.
 
Written By: Joe
URL: http://
I submit there is a difference between libertarians getting organized as a effective voting block and the Libertarian Party being an effective political force.

The former is possible the latter is not (for reasons that have been articulated here).

To organize as an effective voting block we simply need an organizing principle for that vote. Divided Government has been documented by William Niskanen et.al. to restrain the growth of government. This could be the short term tactical organizing principle.

There are many good ideas in the various Libertartian think-tanks, blogs, parties, organizations, etc. to solve the many long term problems produced by our ever growing state. However, before we can treat the long term problems, we need to "stop the bleeding" with a tourniquet. The tourniquet is securing divided government by voting solid Democratic in 2006 and (if accomplished) advocating for a Republican president in 2008. If a solid libertarian voice gets behind this principle of divided government, libertarians become a viable and important political force swinging the balance in a partisan electorate.
 
Written By: MW
URL: http://westanddivided.blogspot.com/
Lib-Reps need to be organizing around PorkBusters, cutting out gov’t "waste". Every PRIMARY, the Libs need to be supporting the guy who wants to cut spending. If there are Lib-Dems, they should be supporting the Dem guy who wants to cut corporate welfare (like $700 mill. for Northrup).

Full internet transparency of all budget bills, including which Rep adds which line items.

Replacement of gov’t grants (handouts) with some user-fee repaid loans (hands), and handle emergency aid as insurance payouts, with required insurance premiums to "pay back" the benefit.

Virtually everybody is against between 90-95% of gov’t waste. But the 10% they support, the 10% that THEY benefit from, they are very strongly in favor of. If they could vote to chop 90% and keep their 10%, they would — but for most folks, it would NOT be the same 10%. If the choice is chop all or none, most folk favor their benefit more than they’re against the waste. [You HAVE heard Milty F. and the beekeeper...]

 
Written By: Tom Grey - Liberty Dad
URL: http://tomgrey.motime.com

 
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