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A Problem of Leadership
Practical Steps the LP Can Take to Restore Its Brand
If the Libertarian Party is ever to restore its brand to one of principled libertarianism and restore the L.P. to its position in the political arena as the “Party of Principle,” it will have to come from the party leadership, both at the national and state levels. Unless the party leadership does that, there is little doubt that L.P. candidates will continue to embrace Republicanesque reform-oriented positions rather than principled libertarian positions. In the process, the Libertarian brand will continue to be a conservative-libertarian mush and the Libertarian Party will continue to be identified as a right-wing organization by the mainstream press and by non-libertarians.
There is another factor to consider. Today the L.P. is besieged by infighting, conflict, discord, separation of state parties, dissolution of state parties, and even sometimes messaging that is embarrassing and harmful to the party and the libertarian movement.
How could it be otherwise? The L.P. is like a boat without a rudder, meandering from side to side and never moving in the direction of port or genuine liberty. Would it surprise anyone that people in that rudderless boat would ultimately start turning on each other? But suppose that boat suddenly acquired a rudder. Suddenly everyone would start working together to move the boat in the right direction. The same thing would happen in the LP if it were to restore its rudder of principled libertarianism. Everyone would now, once again, have pride in their party and their principles and work together to move the L.P. in the direction of genuine liberty.
For more than 25 years, there has been little or no emphasis on messaging for L.P. candidates. It simply hasn’t been important to party leadership, either at the national or state level. Instead, the emphasis has been on running a “record number of candidates.” Moreover, at L.P. training sessions, the emphasis has been on things like fundraising, going door to door, and campaign brochures, with little or no training on how to present principled libertarian positions in L.P. campaigns.
In the process, L.P. candidates, by and large, have been free to take whatever positions they want in their campaigns At the national level, the result has been campaigns that would fit very comfortably within the Republican Party. In fact, oftentimes it has been difficult to distinguish between the reform-oriented positions of the Republican candidate and those of the Libertarian candidate.
Examples: plans to privatize or save Social Security, silence on Social Security, silence on Medicare and Medicaid, health-savings accounts, school vouchers or school “choice,” immigration reform, selective foreign interventionism, regulatory reform, reining in the Federal Reserve, FISA Court reform, NSA reform, CIA reform, Pentagon reform, tax reform, opposition to Covid mandates, decriminalization of marijuana, and ending the wars but keeping foreign military bases intact. Most of those positions would find favor within the Republican Party.
It’s been no different at the state level. One of the most fascinating examples I saw in the 2020 elections was an L.P. candidate for state house. Her website stated something like the following: “I am the Libertarian Party candidate for the state legislature. I am a pragmatist. I fully believe in public schooling and promise to do my best to improve it.”
Wow! Imagine: a full-throated defense by an L.P. candidate of one of the biggest and most destructive socialist programs in America, one that does untold damage to the minds of young people. And it was being sold as “libertarian.” To my knowledge, there was no pushback from party leadership. What mattered was that she was part of the objective to run a “record number of candidates.”
Are there any practical steps that the L.P. leadership could take to install a rudder of principled libertarianism to the Libertarian Party? Let me propose a few, but I’m sure that once people began thinking about it, they could come up with lots more.
1. At training sessions at both the national and state levels, include training on how to make the principled case for genuine libertarian positions. Examples: repeal (i.e., not reform) Social Security and Medicare, legalize all drugs (not just marijuana), open borders, the separation of economy and the state, the separation of school and state, the separation of healthcare and the state, the separation of charity and the state, the dismantling of the national-security state (including the Pentagon, the CIA, and the NSA) and the restoration of a limited-government republic, a termination of all state-sponsored assassinations, torture, and indefinite detention, the end of all foreign interventionism, the abandonment of all foreign military bases and bringing all the troops home and discharging them, the lifting of all sanctions and embargoes, the withdrawal from all foreign alliances, and the end of all foreign aid to every regime in the world.
2. The national L.P. could sponsor a one-week or even just a weekend “boot camp” with the sole aim of training candidates for national office on how to make the principled case for libertarianism. At the end of the course, the L.P. could offer certificates to those candidates who displayed the highest proficiency in competently advocating libertarian principles. The L.P. could recommend that donors support those particular candidates for national office, which would encourage other L.P. candidates to qualify for the proficiency certificate.
3. The national L.P. could construct a model website for its certified national candidates, ensuring that everyone would be on the same page with respect to the burning issues of the day, which would not only help to restore the Libertarian brand in the eyes of the electorate, but would also save money for the candidates.
4. Resolutions could be passed at both the national and state levels advising candidates that if they take positions that are contrary to the principles of the party, they would be expected to state that such positions are their own personal positions and not the position of the Libertarian Party. Such candidates would also be expected to state the position of the Libertarian Party. In this way, the Libertarian brand would start to be restored in the minds of the electorate. Moreover, it might encourage L.P. candidates to adopt genuine libertarian positions in their campaigns.
There is actually precedent for this within the L.P. When Ron Paul was the party’s presidential nominee in 1988, he was pro-life. Whenever he stated his position on abortion, he would state that this was his own personal position and that the position of the party was pro-choice.
5. The L.P., at both the national and state levels, could issue a press release whenever an L.P. candidate took a position that was contrary to genuine libertarian principles that clarified that the candidate’s position was not the position of the Libertarian Party.
There is recent precedent for this in the Democratic Party. After a recent candidate debate in Arkansas, the Democratic Party leadership issued a press release stating,“Earlier today, the Democratic nominee for U.S. Congress District 4 made numerous statements inconsistent with our Party’s positions. The Party does not endorse the candidate’s stated positions.”
6. Stop recruiting Republican candidates to come through the revolving door that has been established between the Republican Party and the Libertarian Party to run as L.P. candidates. All that this has accomplished is to create the image that the L.P. is a right-wing political party or, even worse, simply a subset of the Republican Party. If Republicans or, for that matter, Democrats, wish to join the Libertarian Party, they should know that any campaigns that they run as L.P. candidates will be expected to be based on libertarian principles, not conservative or progressive principles.
7. As I stated in an earlier Substack article, the L.P. could and should stop inviting people to speak at L.P. conventions and events who advocate Republican-lite, reform-oriented positions, such as school vouchers, health-savings accounts, and the like. They can deliver their reform-oriented speeches at Republican Party events, where they would be fully welcomed. Let L.P. speakers deliver the principled case for liberty to Libertarian Party members. Obviously, this would be the easiest policy to immediately adopt but one that would send a powerful message to the L.P. and others that the party was now moving in a different direction — away from Republican-lite, reform-oriented, conservative-libertarian mush-like positions and toward making the case for principled libertarianism.
Ultimately, this matter lies with the party leadership. If it decides that restoring the Libertarian brand to principled libertarianism and restoring the L.P. as the “Party of Principle” is a matter of foremost importance, then everyone will be made aware that the L.P. is now going to move in a different direction — in the direction of its founding libertarian principles. If the party leadership decides that this isn’t important and decides instead to continue in the direction of reform, Republican-lite, and conservative-libertarian mush, the L.P. will continue to meander back and forth without a rudder and most likely will continue to be besieged by conflict, chaos, and discord.
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