The Party of Principle?
The Libertarian Party has long used the label “The Party of Principle” to describe itself. Yet, for many years, many L.P. candidates, at both the federal and state levels, with the aim of expanding their vote totals and without significant opposition from party leadership, have taken reform-oriented positions in their campaigns that violate libertarian principles. This is especially true with respect to the core libertarian principle, which is the non-aggression principle. It holds that it is morally wrong to support the initiation of force against another person.
In the process, the Libertarian Party was essentially converted from “The Party of Principle” to “The Party of Reform” or “The Party of Vote-Getting” or “The Party of Getting L.P. Candidates Elected to Public Office” or “The Party of Practicality and Pragmatism.”
Moreover, the pure libertarian brand was changed into a Republican-lite, reform-oriented message, one that has caused many people to conclude that the Libertarian Party is nothing more than a right-wing or conservative-oriented political party, one that even has a revolving door with the Republican Party.
Permit me to share with you how I became a member of the Libertarian Party.
It was 1990, the first year that I started The Future of Freedom Foundation, a non-profit educational foundation whose mission is to present the principled, uncompromising case for the libertarian philosophy.
I received a telephone call from an L.P. activist from California named Bill Evers, who invited me to serve on the national Libertarian Party Platform Committee.
I thanked him but said no.
He asked why.
I replied: Because the Libertarian Party is a political party. As such, it is compromising libertarian principles in order to get more votes. That doesn’t interest me.
He said: Have you ever read the L.P. platform?
I said: No, and I don’t need to. I have no doubts that it is a hodgepodge of compromised positions with the aim of expanding vote totals for L.P. candidates.
He said: If I send you a copy, will you read it?
I said: Sure, send it on.
A few days later, it arrived in the mail. I began reading it. I was absolutely stunned. The 1990 L.P. platform I was reading was a pure libertarian manifesto. Abolish Social Security. Separate education and the state. Separate healthcare and the state. Adopt a foreign policy of noninterventionism. Abolish the CIA and the FBI. And much more.
I telephoned Bill and said: I was wrong. If you will still have me, it would be an honor to serve on the Platform Committee.
I didn’t ask what the L.P. vote totals were in the last presidential election. I didn’t ask how many L.P. members there were. I didn’t ask how much money the L.P. received in donations. None of that mattered to me. What mattered was that this was a political party that adhered to libertarian principles regardless of those things. This was a party I wanted to be part of.
I ended up serving three terms on the Platform Committee. One of the things I noticed immediately was that there was a faction within the L.P. that wanted to eliminate or water down provisions in the platform that they felt were costing L.P. candidate votes because of their radicalness. The argument they were using was essentially this: “We are a political party, not a debating society. As such, our job is to get people elected to public office. We have a better chance of doing that by concealing hard-core and controversial libertarian principles (such as abolishing Social Security, Medicare, the CIA, and the FBI) and by instead adopting reform-oriented positions (such as reforming or saving Social Security, school vouchers, and health-savings accounts) that voters would find more palatable.
Bill and I and others on the Platform Committee vehemently opposed those efforts. Our argument was this: The platform is our insurance policy. It insures the party against L.P. candidates who are compromising or misstating libertarian principles in order to get votes. If a L.P. candidate, for example, supported the U.S. invasion of Iraq as part of his campaign, party officials could point to the platform to show that that was not the position of the Libertarian Party.
Ultimately, however, those who were calling for compromise and concealment ended up taking control over the party. Their objective each election cycle was to have a “record number” of L.P. candidates” running for office and to get as many votes as possible. But if one were to ask what those candidates were standing for, the answer would have been something like this: “What difference does it make, Jacob? We are a political party. Our job is to run people for public office and get them elected.”
Well, it makes a big difference to me because if all that those L.P. candidates are doing is advocating Republican-lite, Tea Party-like reform positions, why should I care how many votes they get simply because they have “Libertarian Party” next to their names on the ballot? What matters to me is achieving a genuinely free society, not some warmed-over, reform-oriented, conservative-leaning serfdom.
Let’s assume that all but one L.P. congressional candidates are running on Republican-lite, Tea Party reform-oriented positions, such as school vouchers, “privatizing” or “saving” Social Security, health-savings accounts, selective foreign interventionism, legalizing only marijuana and not all drugs, CIA reform, Pentagon reform, and regulatory reform. Let’s assume that only one L.P. congressional candidate is running on pure libertarian principles.
Let’s assume that the reform-oriented L.P. candidates get 30 percent of the votes and that the L.P. candidate who adheres to principle gets 5 percent of the votes.
Who has been the more successful? There is no doubt that the reform or pragmatist wing of the party would say that the L.P. candidates who got 30 percent were clearly more successful. “We are a political party, Jacob, not a debating society. Our job is to get votes and L.P. candidates elected to public office.”
Not me. I couldn’t care less about those L.P. candidates who got 30 percent. For me, the L.P. candidate who got 5 percent would be a much bigger success story. He’s the one I would be supporting. That’s because he continued adhering to libertarian principles. He fought as a libertarian. He let people know what we are fighting for and why we are fighting for it. He kept the Libertarian Party “The Party of Principle” as compared to the 30 percent candidates who essentially converted the L.P. into “The Party of Vote-Getting” or “The Party of Reform” or “The Party of Practicality and Pragmatism.”
Ultimately the Libertarian Party’s restoration of its role as “The Party of Principle” lies with party leadership. For years, the position of party leadership has been that messaging is only of secondary importance and vote-getting is of primary importance for L.P. candidates. Once the party leadership, both at federal and state levels, begins emphasizing the importance of adhering to principle in Libertarian Party campaigns, the pure libertarian brand will be restored as well as the L.P.’s position in the political arena as “The Party of Principle.”
Thanks for reading Libertarian Party Commentaries! Subscribe for free to receive new posts.