Posted by Rojas @ 10:22 pm on June 13th 2008

My Bob Barr dilemma

Bob Barr is my least favorite Libertarian Presidential candidate since Andre Marrou. Of the remaining contenders for the Presidency, he strikes me as being the third most intelligent and decent human being. He is a protectionist. While his views on gay marriage are evolving in a positive direction, he is the principal author of DOMA, and to be frank, he doesn’t seem to like gay people very much. He initially supported the Patriot Act. Were there a chance of my vote winning him the state of Kansas, I would not be casting it for him.

And yet, as Barack Obama and John McCain race pell-mell in the opposite direction of everything that made me respect them in the first place, I am starting to see the potential strategic utility of a Barr vote from a libertarian conservative perspective. My reasoning has to do with the message that my vote sends to the political parties–all three of them–regarding their future direction.

John McCain’s relative fiscal conservatism and his support for free trade and free markets remain appealing to me. What has become impossible to ignore, however (particularly with Brad around) is that McCain has chosen to throw core principles of respect for the law and civil liberties on the fire in order to rally his base. I have been infinitely more patient with McCain than Brad has been on the issue, but McCain’s reaction to Boumediene v. Bush cannot be excused. It is a flat-out kick in the balls to those of us who have been defending him as an advocate of humane and legal conduct–not to mention strategically effective conduct–as part of the war on terror. Worst of all, McCain has chosen to do this, not during the primary season, but post-primaries. His calculation on this matter, as with immigration, appears to be that this is a vote-winner with the general public. As long as that perception remains unchecked among conservatives, there is no real hope of consensus civil liberties protection (or immigration reform) in America.

Make no mistake, the Republican party nominated their best (well, second-best) man. But any possibility that a McCain victory would be seen by the Republicans as imposing an electoral mandate to abandon torture and take reasonable positions on other issues has fallen by the wayside. He has chosen, as a political strategy, to compromise his own core principles in order to tie himself as closely as possible to several of the worst positions of the Republican base. His victory would now be seen as a validation of those positions. Barring a rediscovery of his real voice and original principles, I think he’s lost me.

Barack Obama, meanwhile, despite the apparent benefits of his candidacy where executive power and global perception of the US are concerned, and despite the overwhelming intrinsic appeal of his candidacy, is doing everything he can to lose the support of anyone who favors fiscal restraint. Having initially emerged as a genuinely new sort of Democrat and advocate of numerous free-market based solutions to public policy problems, he has since jumped out of that track entirely. The new Barack Obama cannot abide any new trade deals and cannot think of any existing ones that he isn’t eager to renegotiate. He loves the farm bill–except that he things the existing subsidies for biofuels aren’t high enough. And he wants–and given the likely makeup of Congress, would almost certainly get–a truly astonishing variety of new federal entitlements. As I have written previously, the question of whether the overall budget equation would be better or worse under Obama as opposed to McCain is almost irrelevant. Tax cuts can be (and are) reversed. An entitlement, once established, will never ever be repealed. It can, and will, expand to new classes of people, and expand as a natural consequence of demographic change. What an Obama administration would do to the budget–and to the overall American addiction to entitlements–could never be undone, and would accelerate the imending demographic crisis that is the single greatest threat to American hegemony.

This, it should be stressed, appears to be the central element of Barack Obama’s electoral strategy. His policy shifts following the primaries have signalled that he believes that the route to victory is by handing out candy to the voters and by promising protection from competition. Whatever good may have been done by the Clinton administration in positioning the Democratic party as advocates of fiscal restraint and limited government would be undone, in spades, by an Obama victory. Every vote cast for him will be seen as a validation of this strategy. And as much as I like Barack Obama, I don’t think I can do it.

For all the astringent sentiment people are throwing Karl Rove’s way these days, it seems that both major political parties have wholly endorsed the central tenet of his ideology–that one wins elections by abandoning the center and enthusing one’s base. It is hard to view the post-primary maneuvers of both candidates through any other lens. To paraphrase Richard Nixon: we are all Rovians now.

Except, ironically, for the one party that has throughout its history been insanely base-focused at the expense of all else: the Libertarians.

Given a choice between a field of widely respected ideological purists and a Johnny-come-lately who offered the prospect of actually growing the party, the LP made–by the slimmest of margins–the correct choice. Merits of the candidate aside, it is almost impossible to overstate the significance of this moment for the LP. For the first time in my lifetime, the majority of the party seems to have set its sights on actually influencing the outcome of an election.

There is a definite prospect that they will succeed in doing so. One thing, however, is clear: if Bob Barr can’t win 800,000 votes or more, the LP will retreat screaming into its purist shell. The cries of “I told you so! We sold out for NOTHING!” will be overwhelming. There will be no further attempts to reach out to the center, ever.

So, for the voter who favors greater freedom in both the social and economic spheres, this election poses an interesting challenge. And I find myself facing an irreconcilable dilemma. Faced with two major party candidates who were clearly the class of their fields and either of whom would likely be a very competent and principled chief executive, I must nonetheless confront the very real possibility of casting a protest vote in favor of a man I don’t particularly like.

I find myself forced to choose between the candidates themselves and the political tactics that my vote would appear to endorse.


  1. I’m glad you posted this. In the last few weeks, in spite of myself, I’ve found myself pondering the possibility of voting Barr, for almost exactly the reasons you mention.

    To be clear, I’d add one thing to my McCain-problems that you don’t mention: I really am a Ron Paulian at heart when it comes to the direction of foreign policy. I shy from the term isolationist for connotative reasons, but it isn’t wrong, per se. I’ve been following closely the debate at Sullivan’s blog—the best thing going online right now—on the question of empire. I am convinced that we are, indeed, an empire, and that John McCain would not only continue that vein (which has been a practical reality since World War II), but would accelerate, significantly, particularly as it concerns the Middle East. His entire political career, at this point, is wrapped up in neoconservatism, and the central vision of it is that we need to immesh ourselves in the Middle East, set down a permanent, physical presence which, like South Korea, Germany, et al, we would very likely have for the rest of our natural lives. The Middle East, or at least significant parts of it, would become, for all intents and purposes, an implicit American colony. We would become mired in day-to-day operations there, at a level probably bigger then any comparable “strategically placed” forces in the world, in a way that would have an inertia all its own. And who knows where that leads us, but my guess is, nowhere good.

    I’ll also say you and Adam have gone a long way towards souring me on much of Obama’s domestic policy. I continue to believe, incidentally, that that’s pretty far down on the list of important things—I would put it at least behind civil liberties in the context of the police state and national security, the redefinition of executive authority in like contexts, and the direction and governing philosophy of how we interact with the rest of the world. In this moment in history, those are the matters that I think rank as primary. I’m willing to allow a great deal of leeway in normal economic matters, i.e. the difference between “generic Republican” and “generic Democrat” on matters of the size of domestic government which, in regular years, generally leans me in the direction of the Republican by default. And Obama even has much to recommend himself over McCain on these matters (and McCain’s advantages are, I think, wholly overstated). But Obama continues to walk himself back from his previous sensible pronouncements, and I think you’re correctly identifying how he has chosen to align himself on those matters now. In particular, I think his openness on trade is going to get worse before it gets better, given that his opponent is McCain, and his principal defense state is Michigan, and principal pickup opportunity is Ohio.

    There’s more to the attraction of voting Obama then I’ve yet written out—I mean to explore it at a later time. But there is a huge part of me also that wants to vote for Obama—as cheesy and romantic as this sounds—because I want to be able to tell my grandchildren that I did. I know that may seem silly, but the ethereal things that surround the figure of Barack Obama in American and world history at this time are, I think, powerful, and as much as us hard-nosed rationalists want to poo-poo it, real.

    I also, as you said, find a lot to dislike about Barr, and you’ve missed one: he means to make a very big play on the matter of climate change and environmentalism generally, him being pro- and against- respectively. At this point, I find it hard to respect who are militantly against the exploration of the notion that human beings are responsible for global warming, and who refuse to even join the debate about whether some kind of, yes, communitarian solution special-exception might be required here. Regardless, I can agree to disagree on various things with both sides of this debate, but of all the positions that people can take, Barr’s pug-nosed stridency is the one I can least swallow.

    However, both parties, while choosing the best candidates, are also, in many ways, explicitly choosing the path that the small government civil libertarian small-l libertarian vote is not just not live, but something to actively push off against. Obama’s has been less clear and explicit, McCain’s more personally disappointing, but both are existent, and the picture is beginning to come into focus in a way that I’m profoundly uncomfortable with.

    At this point, I’d still have to call myself “lean Obama”, and I think it’s fair to say that I’ve checked John McCain off the list of options—I agree with Ron Bailey and others that he has disqualified himself to anybody who believes, first and foremost, in the rule of law and the separation of powers, and I’d add in a “humble foreign policy” (to use Ron Paul’s name for it). But Barr, who I haven’t been treating as much of an option, has increasingly become a serious consideration, to the point where I’m now pretty close to the even odds between him and Obama.

    Excellent post. Good to check in with this kind of thing from time to time.

    Comment by Brad — 6/13/2008 @ 11:04 pm

  2. This is a very good post and illustrates some of the concerns that I have with both men.

    I don’t see myself casting a vote for Barr, but I’ve pulled the lever on more protest votes than I ever have on viable candidates, so I would never rule it out.

    Personally, I still lean Obama, partially because of what he represents – the true American Dream, son of an immigrant, you can be anything you want to be, etc. I’m a sucker for a good story. But I want him, and Mccain for that matter, to be the principled pragmatists that I originally believed them to be. They’re shaking my faith by playing to the party bases.

    Comment by Liz — 6/14/2008 @ 12:31 am

  3. I like the idea of Obama. The heart based part of me yearns to vote for him. He’s got such a good story and represents much of what is great about America. I remain unconvinced about his execution of the hope he embodies. In essence, he’s an enigma.

    As I’ve stated previously I put a lot of stock in economic policies. Frankly, I see this country going on an entitlement spending spree with a Democratic President coupled with a Democratic Congress. I have always held out some hope that Obama is a transcending Tony Blair figure ready to remake the Democratic Party into a Thacherite one. Unfortunately, the actions of Obama have dashed this hope.

    McCain is a miracle when it comes to free trade. I’d love to see an attack on spending under his administration, but at the very least I don’t foresee him spending like a drunken sailor like Obama will.

    Okay, economic policies are great and all, but there are some awfully big issues out there compared to domestic policy these days.

    On the Iraq war specifically. I guess, even after everything I’m more in McCain’s camp than Obama’s. I’d like to see the job finished before we leave.

    On life after Iraq. I am significantly more in Obama’s camp. I don’t think an extended presence with dozens of military bases would be a good idea. I echo the humble foreign policy of Paul. I don’t echo the need to leave immediately.

    On civil liberties. I am deeply pleased that psycho Giuliani is not an option in this race. I am actually somewhat torn trying to compare McCain and Obama. I’m unconvinced that McCain is a major threat to civil liberties and not quite confident that Obama is as squeaky clean as he seems.

    On a component of civil liberties: GUNS. This is a major issue to me and there is no contest: McCain all of the way. Obama has a horrible history with regard to guns and I mildly worry about him with a Democratic Congress. Frankly I don’t think it will be that big of an issue (unless the DC ban is upheld, god forbid) for the next administration.

    On foreign policy. Both Obama and McCain are not Bush. McCain will have a bit of a tougher time bringing people together, but he won’t have the stigma that Bush has currently around the world. As has previously been discussed, I am unconvinced that Obama’s foreign affection will translate into significantly more amicable foreign relations. Here again is that idea of Obama. The idea of Obama could spur wonderful changes to American foreign policy, or he could peter out once the halo fades and the glow from the heavens dims.

    I fully recognize and have been affected by the pull towards the idea of Obama. He is certainly has an appeal. He is the next page which is so deeply desired because of the ill state of the current page. He is fresh, new, and exciting. He represents so much that I hope America represents.

    Though it pains me, I just don’t like enough of what I see behind the curtain. I really, really, really like the idea of Obama. My heart yearns for a transcending President Obama. I share that feeling of wanting to share the story with my grandkids. My heart is tugged at strongly by Obama. My head, however, points me towards McCain.

    Convince me otherwise, Barack and you’ll have my vote.

    Comment by Cameron — 6/14/2008 @ 2:27 am

  4. I just remain unconvinced that McCain v. Obama represents anything but a marginal difference in the size of domestic government. It’s the difference between something like a 300 billion annual expansion and a 750 billion annual expansion. At this point, that’s not going to make or break us. Perhaps that’s just a cynicism on my part, but from my end, the system is so fucked that your generic Democrat is not going to be able to do much more damage than regular inertia will, and McCain is not going to (and by and large isn’t interested in) substantially trying to walk anything back. We’re not talking about a “expand the size of government or not”, we’re talking about differences in size on the periphery.

    Even Obama’s health care plan—by far the biggest element of his entitlement agenda—is pretty conservative by the standards of the mainstream Democratic agenda on the matter (at least as defined by Clinton, Edwards, Dodd, etc.), and here’s the rub: the Democrats are going to get their way on this one way or another. I don’t think you guys (fiscal cons) quite realize it, but the battle has already been lost there. We’ve already got managed care in this country, have for a good long while, and we’re going to get some fashion of “universal” health care. I would much rather have Obama and his team be writing that law then other people with greater reputations for fiscal responsibility, say the Clintons, or Reid, or Boxer/Pelosi, or the Edwardian wing.

    Make no mistake, Obama will increase the size and scope of government, but I think it’s overstating it to say he’s going to be some FDR figure. And Obama has always struck me as someone who is interested in trying to get a centrist legacy; my hunch is, ala Bill Clinton, he’ll try to find a few marquee things that he can get Republicans on board with. And, given that most of the country are with the Democrats as it pertains to entitlements, it may be that a wildly popular Democrat who is, to some extent, characteristically “conservative” is the only figure that can maul us with something less unacceptable then if we just gave the Democratic party as an institution the power to rewrite the laws. Sort of an “only Nixon can go to China” scenario.

    My own hunch is that the differences between McCain and Obama on this front will be significant, but in the grand scheme of things will be marginal. Both, I would guess, will increase the size and scope of government less, in total, then Bush did, but both will increase it just the same. I agree that, for fiscal cons, McCain is pretty clearly better then Obama. I just don’t attach the weight to it that many are. If you’re judging this election by a fact sheet comparing how many billions of dollars the government will spend on entitlements on this or that administration, in my view, you’re missing most of the point of what this election represents, is about, and will effect.

    On Iraq as well, Obama is not and never has been a “let’s leave immediately” sort of guy. As I said elsewhere, my hunch is that McCain and Obama, in terms of immediate Iraq strategy, will govern fairly similarly. Only Obama will govern with a general eye towards us leaving eventually, and McCain will govern with a general eye towards setting up a permanent American protectorate. To the chagrin of the anti-war folks, we are not going to “cut and run” under President Obama. The difference is going to be in the long game. And like you, I’m pretty solidly in Obama’s camp—or at the very least certainly not in McCain’s camp—on that one. But let’s not create a false choice on that one. Obama isn’t going to surrender and ill-advisedly yank out American troops within the year. I don’t think that’s possible even if he wanted to (which, incidentally, he does not).

    On civil liberties generally, you’re just not paying attention if you think John McCain isn’t going to continue in the Bush vein as it pertains to police state and national security (by the way, when I use that phrase, as I’m not starting to a lot, I mean, broadly, civil liberties as it pertains to law enforcement, domestic security, national security, international security; how the administration in question would deal with the people it views as criminals, and the demands it would put on non-criminals (suspending habeas corpus, using the Patriot Act to spy on drug dealers, FISA, whatever)). At this point, the only thing that differentiates McCain from the present administration is rhetoric on torture and signing statements, and even those is pretty mushy, judging at least on his actual actions on the former. The people who WANT to like McCain because of residual goodwill from him NOT being the Rudy Giuliani sort are, at this point, willfully pulling the wool over their own eyes. I think Ron Bailey gets it right (and Matt Welch too):

    I don’t think he’ll be hiring John Yoo, or looking actively for new methods to justify torture, but if you think that any John Sidney McCain will let something like the letter of the law, or the constitutional separation of powers, prevent him from acting swiftly to defend America’s interests (however he defines it), then you probably haven’t been paying close attention.

    To me, the McCain v. Obama choice, on civil liberties in this respect, could not be clearer.

    On guns: I have no argument here, and you’re right to bring it up. McCain is not particularly strong on this matter (he’s not overly pro-gun), but between McCain and Obama, I think you can bet that Obama will oversee moderate gun control (in the assault weapons ban vein), and McCain would not. I usually don’t begrudge single-issue gun voters their choice, and in this case, if gun rights is of high import to you, the choice if fairly clear. Me, as you say, I’m not overly worried about it, but it’s worth getting out in the open.

    McCain will have a bit of a tougher time bringing people together, but he wonít have the stigma that Bush has currently around the world.

    Yes, he will just be the “follow them to the gates of hell” Republican pugilist that beat the black muslimy guy and thereby represents all that entails (America is not over race, America still wants to pursue their empire, Americans still fall in for “fuck ’em all” style rhetoric, etc.—fair or unfair, those impressions will be very real).

    Imagine, for just a moment, the headlines around the rest of the world on the morning of November 3rd.

    As for the rest of it, yes I know it’s easy to talk about the halo, or the man behind the curtain, or what have you—most conservatives are inherently distrustful of hype—but the more I’ve been watching, the more I’m going increasingly convinced that Obama actually is the real deal in most of these respects. He’s human, obviously, he’s not the Messiah or whatever else (and I think nobody knows that more than he does), but those ethereal things you and Liz talk about—America really will be a fundamentally different place in January 2009, and will be forever, for his election. Perception matters. Hype, to some extent, matters (ask JFK or Reagan). Though, again, I mean to write about it in more depth later, the Presidency is sometimes overstated as a matter of policy, and often understated as a matter of effect. Electing somebody to the Presidency really is, in large part, a question of how America chooses to define itself. It’s easy to poo-poo narrative, rhetoric, image, hype, etc. etc., but those things play, and play big, not just in how the rest of the world sees us, but in how our children see themselves, and our children’s children (et al.).

    And, maybe the best way to put it is that, at this point in our history and world history, I would rather live in a country that elects Barack Obama then one that elects John McCain over him.

    Comment by Brad — 6/14/2008 @ 3:13 am

  5. Rojas, are you suggesting in your original post that our grand strategy should be driven by the desire to maintain global hegemony? Or are your concerns really about a denegration of the strength of the US to other rising poles of power?

    Comment by Leotie — 6/15/2008 @ 11:24 am

  6. That is, vis a vis other poles…

    Comment by Leotie — 6/15/2008 @ 11:32 am

  7. I should perhaps make it clear, if it’s not already, that I’m not an isolationist, in the sense that I don’t hope that America “checks out”. I fall into that Ron Paul rubric of being a non-interventionist vs. an isolationist. I think that “maintaining our global hegemony” should be the primary goal of American foreign policy. The question, to me, is whether that requires of us an active engagement in the “talking and trading” sense of it, or whether it requires, and I hate to us the phrase but there’s no other accurate one for it, an American empire.

    McCain clearly believes the latter. Obama, less clear perhaps, but certainly seems to emphasize the former. And between the two, there’s not a lot of hedging required for which camp I fall into.

    Comment by Brad — 6/15/2008 @ 11:43 am

  8. I tell you now. They sold out for NOTHING!

    Comment by scineram — 6/15/2008 @ 12:49 pm

  9. I’m with Rojas. I don’t know that I would have voted for Barr over Ruwart were I an LP delegate—I can tell you for damn sure I wouldn’t have voted for Root—but at this point in their history, Rojas is right, you either hit for the sacrifice fly or you go home. Given the last 8 years, the LP no longer has an excuse for sitting at home content to heatedly debate platform revisions amongst themselves forever. You either make an explicit play for voters, make a real attempt at electoral significance, or you forever cede the notion that you’re a vote-getting organization and not just a purity think-tank and circle-jerk.

    Barr damn sure ain’t perfect, but he’s the best shot the Libertarians had at outreach. What little media coverage Ruwart would have gotten would have been focused on to what extent she doesn’t support statutory rape laws. Barr, on the other hand, actively pushes the argument, into the national conversation and with potentially real impact, that there are libertarians out there, that the major parties are eschewing them, and that they have some weight to throw around. His failings at ideological purity are, I think, worth the risk.

    And, like Rojas, my fear is that if Barr fails to set a bar—perhaps through no fault of his own—the LP is going to descend forevermore into platform fights and total electoral obscurity. As you can tell from the disgruntlement with LP “activists”, they’re already aching to do so. “I told you so” is on the lips of about half of active LP membership. I hope Barr proves them wrong. For their sake.

    Comment by Brad — 6/15/2008 @ 1:43 pm

  10. Allow me to vote for the “platform fights and total electoral obscurity” prediction (excepting I’d insert ‘continuing’ between ‘total’ and ‘obscurity’. They’ll be able to affect really close races but that’s good if you’re a pressure group (what they’re best at, although the term ‘best’ perhaps paints an overly rosy picture) and not so good if you aim to become an electoral power.

    The shame is that there’s libertarian sentiment in the electorate well above and beyond what’s currently indulged by the two main parties, but tapping that may not be the special talent of the Libertarian Party.

    Comment by Adam — 6/15/2008 @ 1:57 pm

  11. Well, what do you feel they would have to do to tap it?

    Comment by Brad — 6/15/2008 @ 3:06 pm

  12. …if your answer sounds suspiciously like “nominate somebody like Bob Barr in a close election year”, give yourself a penny.

    Comment by Brad — 6/15/2008 @ 3:07 pm

  13. I think that there’s a lot more needed than nominating someone. They have to build a coalition; Barr might do that or he might not, but the guy they nominate in election year is not the most important thing.

    Additionally, whether or not they’re succeeding or failing won’t be judged by Barr’s’ showing this year (which could be good or bad, by historical Libertarian Party standards, but as he won’t win what comes after is more interesting), but rather how they build on whatever he does achieve. He’s presumably got more chance of getting television face time, on account of him having been a congressman before, which might be a useful platform for the future.

    In particular, given that Barr’s not going to win and he may not match the expectations of some of his supporters, the Libertarian Party faithful shouldn’t spit the dummy as a result and go back to the ideological purity game, at least not if they do wish to be a party that runs in elections for votes, rather than a pressure group.

    Comment by Adam — 6/15/2008 @ 4:03 pm

  14. Oh, and it’s going to look pretty bad if angry Libertarian Party purists spend all their time attacking their candidate, although their coverage will probably be an order of magnitude less again than that Barr attracts. But still, the ideal is that people see Barr, take him seriously, and look deeper. At which point they might discover a disordered rabble of angry people, or else something rather more attractive.

    Comment by Adam — 6/15/2008 @ 4:06 pm

  15. You’re not answering the question though. I’m sort of unclear on what your prescription is.

    How does a Libertarian Party “build coalitions”, particularly if not through actively hunting after major party voters and trying to have a significant, if marginal, electoral impact?

    On the heels of that, presuming that the LP nominates anybody for President, what kind of candidate ought that be?

    My answer to the first question would be that the LP can only build coalitions by proving itself on the electoral battleground, and in particular in shaving off major party voters at the margin in a way that has a significant (again, relatively) effect.

    My answer to the second question would be to nominate the kind of candidate that can do that.

    If you were the chairman of the LP, what would you do?

    Comment by Brad — 6/15/2008 @ 4:16 pm

  16. I don’t think that election year is the time to pull a rabbit out of the hat. They need to be fielding sensible candidates across the board. Presidential candidates get something of a profile, but they’re just not going to win, ever. They should start by fielding sane, hardworking candidates at much lower levels of government.

    In that they nominate anybody for president, it doesn’t much matter to me, so long as they don’t go fruitloop and embarass the party (so Barr is in that sense a good choice). But the best use of the airtime Barr will get will be to push sensible libertarian policies, not to actually try to win the Presidency.

    If I were chairman of the Libertarian Party? It’s a silly question, because I wouldn’t be chairman of the Libertarian Party that currently exists, one way or another, but if I was giving advice to the Chairman, I’d say as I have above, to try to get into local government and show that it works from the ground up, that there can be sane government on libertarian ideals, with deals and coalitions and all that other stuff the purists hate. Why the hell should they be expected to be trusted with the government at the large scale when they haven’t convinced enough people that they can govern at all? And it’s essentially going to be a loooong, slow process; I imagine that there already are Libertarians in local government (but I don’t know what section of the party they represent) but I’m not sure that most people have a Libertarian option, let alone a serious one, in their own local elections, as a rule. Furthermore, this is going to require not arguing people down for not being pure enough, because from those ‘impure’ Libertarians are going to be drawn the electable ones, particularly initially.

    Barr’s not a bad choice — he fits that bill — except I just don’t think that from the top down is how the party’s going to achieve anything. Consequently, it would be a shame if a Barr performance that was a few percent — not bad at all, of course, by Libertarian standards — was somehow held up to be a failure resulting from deviating from the pure libertarianism that some in the Libertarian Party prefer. Maybe Barr’s best contribution, if he plays his hand well, will be to get a few people into the Libertarian Party that can run for the lower levels of government, local and then statewide and then, maybe, Federal; how those people might be treated when they arrive could be pretty important.

    Comment by Adam — 6/15/2008 @ 6:47 pm

  17. Hrm. I guess I take it for granted that the people I talk to are LP experts, despite the fact that the people actively involved in LP stuff are, I suppose, a pretty slim minority of…well, of anything.

    The Libertarian party fields candidates in just about every local and down-ticket race you can find. In fact, their ubiquitousness is part of the “gag” for regular Americans. They run guys for dogcatcher, and for their size, are amazingly successful at negotiated ballot access (although obviously given their small numbers, they can’t field people everywhere, and also given that, they can’t ensure that a fair few of their candidates aren’t “libertarian activist” sorts, who can tend towards the kooky) It has long, long, long been the primary, I would say, objective of the LP to do exactly what you say. In fact, most years—2004 is an example—they eschew running high profile candidates for big elections and instead favor insider “bottom up” types (Badnarick being chosen over Nolan and Russo last time around, for instance, was in part on purity I suppose, but in part a pretty ingrained impulse in the LP to not give up-ticket slots to big names or celebrities, but rather to reward long-time and well-respected activist types). I would argue that really since Ron Paul in 1988, every LP Presidential candidate has been of this stripe.

    Indeed, the LP was founded not as a vehicle for Presidential candidates—they’d just run independents every year—but as a “party building” sort of exercise, with the assumption that if you build a broad enough base of small candidates, you can start creating a pyramid effect.

    And this works, to some extent. If you cruise around to the LP website you can see a listing of a great many Libertarians in state and local offices (and, occasionally, lightning strikes and they land a big one).

    However, the problem, at least in part—and Joyful Cynic or Rojas or Kaligula can jump in here, as they all know the ins and outs of it far more than I do—is that there is no oxygen for libertarianism. Given it has virtually no place on the national political stage, LP candidates, no matter how good, often find themselves entirely crowded out of the system, utterly unable to reach the public. I’ve personally followed a number of races where the Libertarian candidate was clearly the sanest and most intelligent of the bunch (we had a great one for PA Senate recently), but are just an invisible name on a ballot to anybody but hardcore libertarians.

    I’ve come to believe, I think, that you need both. Obviously, as a party, you’re not going to work just sitting around waiting for lightning to strike. Bottom up is the only way to do it, and is 99% of the work and focus of any political party. But I think the LP also has to not shy away from opportunities to punch themselves into the national consciousness (on their terms, incidentally). Barr, much as I have reservations about it, is the first serious step the LP has taken along that route in a long time. From where I’m sitting, it’s their first attempt to speak to non-Libertarians. And I think that’s a necessary component for any kind of long-term party-building strategy. Certainly, the LP has done a lot of good—“libertarianism” in any concerted sense wouldn’t exist without them providing a ready vehicle for it—but they have also not improved their position, relatively, in a long, long while.

    Comment by Brad — 6/15/2008 @ 8:13 pm

  18. I know they run. But seriously, not enough oxygen? That’s the fat kid’s excuse.

    In this town, which is small (not many over 10 000 people), running for local office means printing pamphlets and knocking on doors. Starting at this level is easier because it’s cheaper and people are often just happy you spoke to them (I know a guy involved in local politics here and it’s really not a lack of oxygen that’s preventing people advancing).

    Might it be that the problem is that when they put up candidates, they’re crappy?

    I agree that Barr can attract some attention, but what they need is sensible people signing up and also running for the party. My concern, as I said in my last comment, is what sort of reception they’ll get. They won’t be close to ‘pure’ in the Libertarian sense and they’ll have to make deals if they do win the odd election. Will they retain support even if they had it in the first place?

    Running someone for President on the Libertarian Party isn’t “bottom up”, whatever the candidate is like and however they got there. There’s no serious structure underneath them, no decent pyramid of lower-level representatives built up.

    A real attention-grabbing scenario is that the Libertarian Party are one of several factors that make McCain lose a close election, which they’ll presumably claim, as the Naderites (and the Democrats, for that matter) did in 2000, was actually them denying McCain the presidency (although that sort of claim depends on a sort of primacy that is largely unproven). That might have some benefit if their aim was to cause more libertarian-friendly GOP policies (my preferred outcome) but it’s not much use if you want to run an actual vote-winning [i]party[/i].

    Comment by Adam — 6/15/2008 @ 10:19 pm

  19. In this town, which is small (not many over 10 000 people), running for local office means printing pamphlets and knocking on doors. Starting at this level is easier because itís cheaper and people are often just happy you spoke to them (I know a guy involved in local politics here and itís really not a lack of oxygen thatís preventing people advancing).

    Yes, and I guarantee you if you ever picked up a ballot you would discover that about 2/3s of the races, from New York Senate to dogcatcher, have Libertarian candidates. I know you don’t vote, but seriously, go do a hunt for what your local ballots look like (they have them online). LP candidates in America at every level are ubiquitous.

    Running for President isn’t “bottom up” at all, I agree—my point is that everything you say, trying to build a bottom-up empire of small officeholders and viable candidates for office, has been the primary purpose and function of the Libertarian Party since it’s inception. Recruiting good candidates and contesting every race they can is their entire mission in life, so again, I wasn’t sure what you were poo-pooing that the LP isn’t doing enough of. They’ve been doing exactly what you say they should be doing for 30 years now, with a lot more savvy and skill then I think you realize.

    All that said, my question, given your initial post, was presuming that Libertarians every run anybody for President, what kind of candidate ought that to be? I think Bob Barr is more or less exactly what the party should hope for in a Presidential candidate—consensus, mainstream-minded, able to get PR and educate on Libertarian principles, targeting ideologically-ignored or dissatisfied two-party voters, etc etc.

    Comment by Brad — 6/16/2008 @ 10:08 am

  20. The thing that I can’t tell you, anecdotally, is which candidates are door-knocking here, because none will come to my door as I’m not registered.

    My concern is that ‘bottom-up’ still requires sensible politicians, not activists who run as sacrificial lambs. Now, I know from experience that the Libertarian Party does have sane members, but I am unconvinced firstly that they have enough clout and can get away with sufficient deviations from ideological purity to be electable and, secondly, I am concerned at what reception new people of that type might get if they are attracted into the Libertarian Party by a (hypothetically/hopefully) sensibly-conducted Barr candidacy. The best thing that Barr can do is attract attention to the party and some good people with it. If they walk into a local Libertarian Party grouping where the balance of power lies between stoners (more numerous) and gun nuts (better organised) and their ideas about compromises required in order to get into power aren’t well-recieved, bottom-up continues to mean defeat at most levels. I believe that you just can’t win in a typical community with Libertarian Party orthodoxy.

    If they have to run anyone for President, I think that their ability to attract attention whilst appearing to be interested in some compromise. Barr has to be better than Badnarik in that regard, although I’m not sure he’s the best conceivable. Tom Selleck? Although he’d have to grow his moustache back.

    Comment by Adam — 6/16/2008 @ 1:27 pm

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