Libertarians, Republicans, and Effectiveness

Well, CPAC just happened, and Ryan Sager and Ramesh Ponnuru are going back and forth about the extent to which libertarians are welcome in the new, improved, dominant GOP. (Instapundit has a nice round-up here.) This prompted some thoughts by Randy Barnett on the problems engendered by the rise of the Libertarian Party. This is an external version of an internal dialogue that I have been having for some time.

First off, the Libertarian Party is politically functionally irrelevant. Yes, the LP is the longest going third party that actually puts candidates on ballots, &c, &c. I know all the talking points, okay? However, the candidates come off as lunatics to most people and nobody ever gets elected. The Cato Institute does more for libertarians than the party because people actually pay attention to Cato. The LP is dismissed out of hand as a collection of freaks. Like it or not, that’s just how it is.

This leads to the next problem. To be politically effective in this country, you are going to be a Democrat or a Republican. Yes, third party candidates occasionally win locally. They are not significant on a national level, and please don’t throw up the example of Ross Perot. Perot’s success, in terms of spoiling the election, came about because he spent a gizbillion dollars of his own money. (see also: Corzine, Jon) Any candidate lacking those financial resources (read: every LP candidate that’s ever run) is not significant. Because of the nature of the American electoral system, broad-based coalitions are the only real way to win.

Having said that, to be politically effective as a libertarian, you have to join up with one of the two big parties. What’s the problem? Well, the donks and the efenants give a lot of us wacko libertarian types the heebie-jeebies. Bluntly put, libertarians are either too idealistic or too politically naïve to compromise enough to join the major parties. Here, by join, I don’t mean vote. I mean actively participate in the organizations and attempt to influence policy from within. Aside from the anomalies like the Republican Liberty Caucus, libertarians simply don’t do this. It becomes a question of holding your nose (and tongue) long enough to do some good. It seems that most libertarians would rather remain ideologically pure and argue amongst themselves about who is really libertarian and who isn’t than actually accomplish anything.

Now, Jon Henke over at Q&O has the idea that libertarians have to make common cause with moderates to save the GOP from the social conservatives or else it’s “the end of libertarianism as an important constituency in US politics”. First off, you have to convince enough libertarians to join the party and barring some great advance in the art of cat herding, I just don't see that happening. However, his statement begs the question as to whether or not libertarianism is an important constituency. Unfortunately, I don’t think it is. I think it is an important strain of political thought, but simply doesn’t appeal to enough people to be important at election time. I also don’t think his analysis includes the possibility that the donks will refashion their party into something acceptable to libertarians. Seeing as how the donks are currently headed for a meltdown of epic proportions, what will come after the crash has to be considered, even if we can’t accurately predict what it will be yet.

This is essentially the same debate I’ve been having with myself for years. Do I just suck it up and deal with the efenants? Or resign myself to having my political positions marginalized? Lately, though, the efenants have been behaving distastefully since they have completely forgotten the concept of limited government and fiscal discipline. Ick. It’s enough to drive one to drink, not like that it's ever a long drive for me. So I’m going to go home and do just that.

Update: Randy Barnett continues his thinking here. It seems that he and the person he quotes favor the approach taken by the Republican Liberty Caucus. I dimly recall that such an organization exists for donks as well, but have no clue what it might be called.


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