I spent a little bit of time over this Thanksgiving weekend, amongst my other dubious activities, participating in a comment thread in a blog written by the chairman of the Libertarian Party for the county in which I live. Now, I always knew that "libertarian" wasn't a good description of me. But I'm finding out that the reasons why not are changing. I don't, of course, know how typical of LP folk nationally the Indiana LP crew might be. It's probably safe to say, though, that "this is not your father's Libertarian Party."
Your Father's Libertarian Party was easily caricatured. Think back to high school. The chess club guys, taking a break to exegete Ayn Rand. How far could it be pushed? Maybe you didn't need any laws at all -- just a requirement (enforced how? one wondered) that he or she who injures another must make restitution. Money solves everything. What were the details of how the private-enterprise, freely-competing police departments, fire departments, and armies would work? Private networks of roads? People could debate -- without end -- whether any of these ideas would hold water, rationally, or not. One thing was certain, though: they would never be tried out. Your typical LP candidate for public office would attract a share of the vote that tended to trade somewhere in the sub-one-percent range. The thing had its own special charm, regardless. You could be quite sure that every LP candidate had a "day job" -- none of them were public-trough leeches. You could be rather sure that no sleazy corporate or union buyers of access and influence were lining their pockets, or their miniature campaign warchests. Why in the world would you want to even try to buy a libertarian? It wasn't as if they were ever going to be elected to anything. And so the LP enjoyed the presumptive cleanliness of powerlessness.
For some months now, I have been reading a fair amount of the online writings of the LP folks who participate in this thread. (Mr. Enders is the treasurer of the Allen County LP; Mr. Kole is a candidate for the Indiana LP's nomination for secretary of state.) And I've noticed how much like old-school conservative Republicans they sound. I took the occasion of this thread to inquire about this trend. Mr. Kole, in particular, provided some interesting replies:
Glad you brought up the fact that I am among the moderate-sounding Libertarians here in Indiana. Consider two things to see why I take a moderate, incremental approach.
1. Since we are on the subject of schools, consider the reaction of the average parent. Say he has four kids, aged 7-14. The Libertarian extreme or endpoint position is that public schools should be abolished tomorrow and replaced with private schools only.
He hears this and he rushes to help a Republican or Democrat. It is important to consider why this is the logical, rational thing for him to do.
Most parents do not have significant savings, sadly. Most parents have an entitlement mentality that includes the expectation of public schools. Having to pay for private education might cost $10k per child. The Libertarian endpoint position means an immediate cost of $40k you him for several years to come. He HAS TO work against the Libertarian candidate.
2. Think of the spectrum of economic thought, from left to right. On the left (but extreme furthest left), you have the Democrats. Somwhere in the middle, you have the Republicans. The Libertarian extreme is on the far right.
It is understood that speaking fiscal conservatism will not appeal to the left. So, the opportunity for Libertarian candidates to appeal to their potential voters can result in a divide of voters at a range determined by the dialogue.
If the Libertarian and Republican are as far away as possible, the best the Libertarian can do is split those voters in half.
If the Libertarian position is very close to the Republicans, but slightly more fiscally conservative, the Libertarian stands to take all of the voters more extreme than the position taken, and split the rest of the fiscal conservatives in half.
In reality, many fiscal conservatives conclude that the extreme Libertarian position is either unwinnable or untennable, so they vote Republican.
The bargaining position of the Libertarian candidate, such as myself, improves dramatically if trying to discredit Republicans as fiscal conservatives when I take a position such as 'cut the budget 1%'. It puts gneuine pressure on the Republicans to actually meet that objective, for if they can't even cut 1%, their base finally knows it can't count on the GOP to do anything with their majorities. If I was taking a cut 50% approach, they don't have to respond to me at all. They can dismiss me as a dreamer, tinfoil hat wearer, etc.
I like the Libertarian philosophers to take extreme positions. That is the role of the editorial writer.
Libertarian candidates have taken extreme positions for over 30 years, and have less than 1% nationally to show for it. Here in Indiana, we have been increasingly choosing not to fulfill Einstein's definition of insanity, but rather, are taking a different approach, because as we have seen, if policy is to be an all-or-nothing proosition, we will get nothing. 30 years of proof back me up.
This business of "endpoint positions" is interesting. Mr. Kole is running for secretary of state (within the LP, so far). Let us suppose he's out campaigning for this position, some October, in a general election season. He makes a proposal: cut the state budget by 15%. You, as a truly informed voter, have read the blog thread I've been writing about. Now, as "Dirty Harry" Callahan of movie fame might put it, you have to ask yourself a question. I've heard his words ... but I don't know what he's thinking. Does he really want to cut the budget by 15%? Or does he really want to cut it by 95%, but just doesn't want me to know that?
There's a technical term for a man who talks ... but talks so that his listener can't know what he thinks based on what he says. That term is "professional politician." You know ... careerist, "position-taking" (not "belief-holding"), technocratic, spin-doctoring politico. Just like a real, big-league, Democrat or Republican politician.
Why does Mr. Kole advocate this approach? Because, he says, it works.
Hmmmmm. I think there are a couple of problems with the LP Of Today model. First, I don't think it will work. Integrity might have been an LP distinctive. Once it's tossed, LP candidates are simply Demo or GOP wannabes. Given a choice between an ersatz Republican and the genuine article, why not vote for the real one, whose commercials are bound to be slicker anyway, and who might leave you with the warm fuzzy feeling of having Voted For A Winner? Secondly, quaint though it might seem, obtaining success by being less than forthcoming is, well, wrong. What does it profit a man, one might ask, to gain even a seat in the Mighty U.S. Congress, and lose his own soul?
Well, in any case, I hope my fellow blogger Mr. Sylvester is successful in his bid for a school board seat. I'm sure his constituents would be better served by him than by his freespending incumbent opposition. But I do think that all the local LP troops might want to consider the possibility that they'll wake up one of these days and discover that they have become, or have returned to being, Republicans -- by a different name.