March 01, 2012
After four decades of failure, it’s time to stick a fork in the
Some may be tempted to offer the LP an “attaboy,” and urge its
activists and candidates to keep fighting. But examine the record. There are no
LP-nominated legislators or executives in office at the state or federal level.
Of ten presidential candidacies, one crested
1 percent of the popular vote. According to Ballot
Access News, a mere 278,446 voters were registered as Libertarians in
2010. (Democrats numbered 43.1 million, and Republicans 30.7 million.)
The LP peaked early. In 1972, its first year on the ballot, a
elector from Virginia backed its presidential ticket. The rebellious act
produced the first Electoral College vote for a woman -- Theodora Nathan was the
party’s pick for vice president.
Since then, the LP has mattered in just a few significant elections
-- and not by winning them.
In 1998, a Libertarian candidate helped keep Harry Reid in Washington. At the time,
politician faced a tough challenge from a then-popular U.S. Rep. John
Ensign. (This was long before the Las
Vegas veterinarian had
his mommy and daddy pay off his mistress. In ’98, Ensign was scandal-free.)
The LP’s nominee received an impressive 8,044 votes. Reid beat his Republican challenger
by a paltry 428 votes. With no Libertarian running, Ensign would have won.
Underfunding, doctrinaire hacks, infighting, and poor candidates
explain much of the LP’s bust. But third parties, whatever their platforms,
don’t prosper in the American system of government. “Duverger’s law” holds
that winner-take-all electoral structures usually produce two dominant parties.
Once firmly established, of course, the duopoly thwarts competition with burdensome
However interesting history and theory may be, a brass-tacks
analysis leads to the conclusion that the LP is a waste of true believers’ time
and donors’ money.
With Libertarianism kaput, what’s libertarianism to do?
Working with the Democratic Party isn’t an option. There was a
time when the donkeys embraced several libertarian principles -- many were protective
of personal freedoms, questioned the military-industrial complex, and assailed
But as currently constituted, the Democratic Party is no home
for liberty-lovers. From Nanny
crusades to “aggressive
multilateralism” to sweetheart deals for “green” companies, Barack Obama’s
gang of social engineers, public employees, and entitlement-seekers is hopeless.
That leaves the GOP. Nutcases
spending your tax dollars to induce The Rapture. (Or juicy cost-plus
Department of Defense contracts.) Chamber-of-commerce wimps who don’t like
tax hikes but have no interest in rolling back government. Seal-the-border xenophobes
who aren’t concerned about crops rotting in
Republicans can be scary. But they’re the only game in town.
The Ron Paul phenomenon proved that libertarians, ignored for so
long by party bosses, are players in the GOP. The Texas congressman failed in his quest for
the 2008 presidential nomination, and won’t prevail in 2012. But he’s exposed
more Americans to libertarian ideas than 40 years of third-party fiddling.
Republican power brokers with the guts to examine Paul’s latest fundraising
data will find two stunners. So far, 13 percent of the checks that individuals
wrote to Mitt Romney’s campaign were for $200 or less. For Newt Gingrich and Rick
Santorum, the figure is 56 percent. Paul has bested them all, at 62 percent. That’s
true grassroots support, and stupid to ignore. As for the folks likeliest to give
to “Dr. No,” in February the
campaign reported that it had “raised more campaign donations from
active-duty members of the military than all other presidential candidates
combined.” Tends to inoculate the libertarian cause from charges that it
doesn’t “stand with the troops,” eh?
Smart, affluent, tech-savvy, young, and distributed throughout
every part of the country, libertarians have much to offer the GOP. Ron
Paul will leave D.C. at the end of 2012. To be a viable political force, libertarians
must devote their energy and resources to influencing his party.
Despite a century-long assault by academics, educrats, the
media, entertainers, and philanthropic foundations, limited government lingers
in the nation’s ideological DNA. Politicians and bureaucrats are widely
disdained. Visits to the DMV and post office are dreaded. Entrepreneurship is
foreign adventures, while initially supported, quickly lose favor when they
But operating outside the two-party system hasn’t yielded any
progress in the battle against Big Government. Forty years after its founding,
the LP is wholly irrelevant.
“Let’s form our own party” was gutsy and visionary in 1972. In
2012, the results are in. The Libertarian Party is due for a mercy killing.
D. Dowd Muska (www.dowdmuska.com) writes about government, economics, and technology. Follow him on Twitter @dowdmuska.
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