June 07, 2004

In Response to Harry Browne
Posted by Jon Henke

As a follow-up to my previous post about the futility of the Libertarian Party, I'd also like to deal with this article by Harry Browne that references my previous post on the LP. It feels a bit odd to have the former Libertarian Party candidate--a candidate for whom I voted--calling those like me "smug, superior types", and "libertarians who aren’t in the party".

Well, fair enough, Mr Browne. Show me The Way. Show me the candidates the LP has had elected to office in Washington. None? Well, then, state government. Any? If there are any LP candidates in positions higher than city/county government, I am not aware of them. In fact, "After 33 years in operation, the LP presidential candidate has never received more than 1% of the vote, the party has elected less than a thousand office-holders, and currently has no one in Congress or a state legislature." (--Harry Browne)

So, really, I'm having trouble seeing what high ground Harry Browne holds to look down on we libertarians who are not Libertarians. He goes on...

I recently received an email message from someone asking, "If the LP was a stock that you (or I) had bought 20 years ago, based on its performance would you still be holding onto it?" — as though I would choose a political party or organization of any kind in the same way I would choose a stock.
He's right to some extent, you know. One doesn't affiliate with a political party strictly to ride their coattails to victory. One chooses a political party in order to help them win, because they share a similar goal as yourself.

However, like choosing a stock, the utility of associating with that party plays some role for each of us, else we would all simply join our own party of one. After all, we each--by definition--agree with ourselves 100% of the time. The same cannot be said of any other candidate for office. And yet, Harry Browne, in 1996 and 2000, asked libertarians to cast aside differences in opinion and vote for him.

The LP, it seems, understands the concept of a coalition of like-minded voters when it comes time to support the LP, but the concept escapes them after that. Browne goes on....

While I have heard each of--even made some of--the alternatives Browne points out, he presents a false choice by leaving out the possibility of working through a major Party to achieve libertarian ends. Libertarians are irrevocably blocked by the two major parties for one simple reason: both parties have achieved a sort of Nash equilibrium with each other. If a party policy causes a dramatic voter shift, the other major Party will simply adopt that policy sufficiently to bring the equilibrium back to (roughly) 50/50.

A victory for the libertarian principle? Perhaps, though less efficiently if they were focused on that policy from the start, rather than an electoral drive. A victory for the Libertarian Party? No.

Browne, though, seems to think there is an institutional bias against Third Parties, citing a variety of federal impediments to ballot and media access...

And because there’s so little media coverage, most people in turn consider a vote for a third-party candidate to be largely a wasted vote.
Unfortunately, this does not explain the futility of libertarians at the local and state level. If Browne is right, and the Libertarians are compromised by federal restrictions, one would think that local elections would be the control to that experiment. And yet, exceedingly few libertarians hold office in elected offices, even at the city/county levels.

Browne says "Even though the candidate has a slim chance of getting a million votes or more, he can do a great deal for the party and the libertarian cause", and goes on to list a variety of ways the LP candidate can publicize the philosophy of libertarianism. Only...the LP has been doing this for 30+ years now, and their vote totals:
2000: 382,869
1996: 485,798
1992: 291,627
1988: 432,179
1984: 228,705
1980: 921,299

So, Mr Browne, how's that working out for you? And if this--receding vote totals, receding LP membership, and electoral impotence--does not constitute failure, what would? At what point does the LP say "we're failing, it's time to change course"?

Libertarians, in response to my recent posts and other comments elsewhere, have accused me of standing on the sidelines, criticizing those who are working for their principles - of frustrating people who work hard for liberty. It is not their ideals, though, that I criticize, any more than I would criticize the ideals of a fellow who runs in place 6 hours a day "for Liberty". Like that fellow, though, I fail to see where it's gotten them.

At some point, if you are serious about increasing libertarianism in our government, you have got to make a choice - either stand with the fringe, and cry about the utter futility of it all....or get involved in major party politics.

I'm sure Harry Browne is a nice fellow, and I'm sure he has some good ideas - though I don't subscribe to all of them. He'll never - never - accomplish one of them, though, by standing on the sidelines of the only game in town.

UPDATE: Jamie Dodge comments on the Browne article, as well...



Having been involved in third party politics for quite some time (Reform and Libertarian) I believe you have missed a key ingredient in the character of people registered within third parties. Compromise is not in their vocabulary.

Even within their own parties they fight so strenuously that they serve only to inflame each other. The hard feelings generated allow none but the “pure” to survive. These people do not play well with others, which is why they disaffiliate with their major party.

You also neglect to give people an alternative. When I returned to the Republican Party I was loath to call myself a "Republican" because I knew the assumption would be that I was a religious authoritarian. I am thrilled to be able to instead tell people I am a member of the Republican Liberty Caucus (http://www.RLC.org), and that I am working to move the Republican Party in a libertarian direction.

Posted by: Ray Holtorf at June 7, 2004 11:38 AM

I'd like to offer at least one kind word for the Libertarians, based on current personal situation.

I've just moved up to a larger house in a different suburb -- moving in the process from a congressional district served by Democrat Martin Frost to one served by Democrat Eddie Bernice Johnson. Now Frost is not merely a Democrat but a powerful force, who challenged Nancy Pelosi for the leadership of the House. Though considered to be in a "safe seat", and considered to be among the more moderate among Democrats (as one might expect for a representative from Shrub's state) the Republicans never failed, in my experience, of putting up a hard challenge to that seat. And Frost was a better representative because of that competition. (Due to redistricting, he's now facing off against Pete Sessions ... that's going to be bloody. Either way, Texans will lose some valuable seniority in the House next term.)

EB Johnson, while a capable representative, has failed to make quite the mark on the national stage Frost did. Her biggest claim to the spotlight comes from her strength in the House "Black Caucus".

But the Republicans don't even deign to oppose her. Her seat has been written off. They don't even attempt to find a black, or Hispanic, or even a white female candidate to "waste the time" to challenge the incumbant for the post.

The Libertarians, at least, are willing to waste time. EB Johnson DOES have competition.

It's sad the Libertarians are running a geeky looking white male business-wonk in a historically minority, economically deprived, otherwise Republican-leaning district. But they do TRY.

Seems to me if they could find another registered nurse sucessful realtor political realist minority challenger, rather like Johnson herself, they'd have a good shot at it. A LOT of people are just tired of "business as usual."

Posted by: Pouncer at June 7, 2004 12:40 PM

Nice to see an insider endorsing my "crank" theory.

Posted by: Dale Franks at June 7, 2004 12:40 PM

What has always astounded me about the LP is that they waste so much money and resources on a presidential candidate who has not a chance in Hades of ever getting elected or even influencing the election in any way.

Why not take those resources and use them at the local level - especially if, as Harry Browne and others assert, they face impediments at the federal level?


Posted by: Cody Hatch at June 7, 2004 02:21 PM

Nice Forum you have here.

I was backing Gary Nolan for the Nomination, and even contemplated forming a "Republicans for Nolan" Group. That's all biten the dust now that the Libertarian Party has nominated Michael Badnarek. Nice guy, but no credentials and no political experience to speak of.

This will be a minor boom for Bush's reelection effort. The LP had a chance to effect the outcome of the race in key states. But now Badnarek will probably get a paltry 250,000 votes instead of the 1 to 2 million that they could have received with Nolan or Aarron Russo.

Thank Darwin (or God), that I founded the Republican Liberty Caucus 14 years ago.

Post Bergland Campaign in 1984, Libertarians had nowheres else to go.

Today, we are lucky that we have a strong viable, if grossly underfunded alternative organization for libertarians who are serious about real world politics.


Posted by: Eric Dondero at June 7, 2004 04:58 PM

Thanks for that insightful comment! It makes interesting reading, especially when I need a payday loan.

Posted by: payday loan at November 25, 2004 09:04 PM

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