The socialists have had quite the last couple of weeks at the ballot box. Across the United States, self-described democratic socialists were victorious in gaining power or holding onto public office. Most prominently, Seattle City Councilor Kshama Sawant won her re-election bid and Lee Carter was given another two-year mandate by Virginia’s 50th district voters. Overseas, socialists were victorious in Portugal, and Jeremy Corbyn’s Labor Party is polling in second place ahead of the U.K. election. Put simply, despite being an ideology of failure, ignorance, and envy, socialism continues to be popular.
But what about the libertarians – big L and little L? What happened to a crusade that seemed destined for greatness after attracting millions of Americans in the aftermath of the 2008 and 2012 presidential elections?
Where Are the Libertarians?
Libertarians possess very little power in the U.S. today. As of 2019, Libertarian Party members have about 200 elected offices, ranging from school boards to treasury posts. In Congress, there are a handful of libertarian-leaning public officials, such as Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), Rep. Thomas Massie (R-KY), and Rep. Justin Amash (I-MI).
The Libertarian Party (LP) has more than 500,000 registered members, and with many Americans becoming disenfranchised with the two-party system, the porcupines are appealing to more people. But as the LP attempts to allure additional voters, it risks becoming a big tent apparatus that tries to be all things to all people, and this could damage the entity’s long-term integrity.
Today, the LP has a long list of ideologically diverse caucuses within the party, including a controversial socialist caucus. Members hold conflicting views on the most basic libertarian principles. It is doubtful that the socialist wing will agree with the Mises people on fiscal, tax, or gun policy.
Leadership might be even more of a pressing matter. In recent years, the LP has embraced Republican-lite individuals and tossed to the side several well-known libertarians. As the party welcomed former Governor William Weld (R-MA) into the fold, it expressed little interest in having the godfather of libertarianism, former Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX), speak at the 2018 convention. That is not all. The leadership compared the Paul family to the Bushes and Clintons and claimed the Russian government had backed the elder Paul’s 2008 presidential campaign. It targeted the Mises Institute, an entity named after the great economist Ludwig von Mises, by comparing it to a Nazi organization.
The New American’s Steve Byas opined in February 2018:
“It would appear that the Libertarian Party has opted to cast itself in such a way so as to appeal to secularists, globalists, and social liberals, and to play down what one would think are libertarian positions, such as limited government.”
Commentator Tom Woods likes to refer to these individuals as won’t-you-please-take-me-seriously-good-Mr.-New-York-Times-reporter-sir libertarians. These people will use politically correct terminology, avoid musing on certain topics, and virtue-signal by signing letters opposing fascism (you’re a libertarian, of course you oppose fascism!).
The LP recently got into some controversy when it disinvited Maj Toure, a black gun rights activist who is running for Philadelphia’s city council, as a keynote speaker at this year’s Libertarian National Convention. Toure claimed that he was asked not to attend because of a false accusation that he outed “a potential ‘big’ donor.” Toure is the type of young blood the party needs, and he certainly would not cave to acceptable opinion purported by the establishment. But the leadership felt differently.
Social Liberal, Fiscal Conservative
The Libertarian Party has abandoned the spirit of its founders, like Murray Rothbard. It has instead chosen to adopt the vanilla version of libertarianism, known as “socially liberal and fiscally conservative.” This could explain why the Libertarians are not having any electoral success.
Let’s face it: The young generation of Republicans has become libertarian-lite. We are currently seeing far more GOP politicians and voters without gray hair spouting some of the rhetoric you would find in a libertarian manifesto, such as drug legalization or an end to regime change wars. Many Republicans have also called out the Federal Reserve and championed gold-backed money. The Libertarians no longer hold a monopoly on these views. The LP’s only shot at electoral success is to go back to its roots and start local.
Is talking monetary policy, proposing abolishing student loans, and suggesting a withdrawal from the World Trade Organization (WTO) sexy in an election campaign? You would not think so, but that is how Dr. Paul generated millions of votes in ‘08 and ‘12 and introduced an entire generation to the libertarian movement. Instead of just espousing politically expedient positions, like legalizing marijuana, the LP could make controversial stances key planks of its platform.
Following the 2016 election, Mises President Jeff Deist made the compelling case that the LP needs to reallocate its resources into state and local contests. This was a pragmatic suggestion, considering it is highly unlikely that it could take on the two-party system and win the presidency. A couple of seats in state legislatures and a few city council seats nationwide can make a world of difference in the long-term – look at the socialists! It would be more effective than wasting millions of dollars on a vanity national campaign that does not even involve making it to the debate stage.
A Purity Ring
Do Libertarians need to wear purity rings? Do they need to sport a Very Murray Christmas sweater all year long? Do they need to recite Friedrich Hayek’s Road to Serfdom by memory? Much of the small-L crowd would prefer a Libertarian Party candidate to uphold the most basic principles of libertarianism, not the watered-down version that the mainstream media peddles. Being milquetoast is not the path to long-term electability or even sustainability. Sure, the duopoly in American politics is broken, but election results keep supporting the theory that the socialists have done a better job of taking advantage of the decrepit situation and are presently erecting hammers and sickles across the country.
The Libertarian Party candidate in 2020 should be interesting to witness, so pass the Milton Friedman popcorn bowl.
Read more from Andrew Moran.