Thursday, June 5, 2008

Why Bob Barr should not be apologizing his way through Georgia (or anywhere else)

I need this disclaimer for people who won't go back and find out I say good or bad things about every candidate when they merit it (and that I supported George Phillies for the LP nomination): I remain very tepid on Bob Barr, but committed to the Libertarian Party.

That said, I am bemused by the responses to Barr's appearance on Colbert's show, as epitomized by Susan Hogarth's comment at Independent Political Report [and hello Austin, by the way, your site still won't let me register to comment]:

I found it very disappointing. ONCE AGAIN, Barr refuses a golden opportunity to say he was wrong, his antilibertarian votes (patriot act, DOMA, flag burning amendment) were wrong, and he’s seen the light. Instead, he talks about how libertarian-leaning republicans and good conservatives have been left by the Republican Party and how the *awful* things he supported have ‘been taken too far; particularly after 9/11′. They were TOO FAR *well before* 9/11.

Barr is still campaigning as a ‘libertarian-leaning Republican’ and a ‘true conservative’, which I find extremely disappointing. He blew a golden opportunity to connect with actual libertarians.


Let's parse this one a little. As I noted in an analysis last week, the Libertarian base (Hogarth's "actual Libertarians") is at best 450-500,000 voters, of whom it appears that about 380-400,000 will vote Libertarian pretty much without regard to who the candidate actually is. That's the definition of a political base.

If Barr has one thing right, it is that such a miniscule base is impotent for actually influencing--much less winning--general national elections. It can't even hope to hold a balance of power or threaten the major candidates.

The expansion of the Libertarian vote will have to occur as the result of enticing new voters to pull a lever or push a button that is neither Republican or Democrat.

These folks are small-L libertarians, libertarian-leaning Republicans, bikers, lesbians, potheads, small businesspeople, gun nuts, and the growing proportion of the buttoned down middle class being slowly crushed to death by taxes, regulation, and the general flow of events.

When we bring them aboard, they will come not with fully formed philosophies or any real interest in internal Libertarian Party politics. They will want lower taxes and government hand-outs, and we're going to have to educate them on the march, as we build an airplane while flying it. Not only will our radicals be discomfited and lose influence in our formerly small pond, even pragmatists like me are going to have to run the Red Queen's Race just to keep some sort of rein on what the party becomes.

In that atmosphere, here's something Libertarians need to realize:

The voters Bob Barr is courting--has to court--simply do not give a flying crap about his Damascus moment or whether he's made mistakes in the past, or even how he got the nomination.

All they want to know is what a Libertarian candidate and the Libertarian Party might do for them in the future.

Now, there are many Libertarians who don't think we should be a political party at all, that electoral success will spoil the movement, and that you cannot overcome the essential paradox of running to get power in order to give it away, because human nature and the political structure is against them.

I don't agree. A half-faithful, half-ideologically pure Libertarian Party that could reduce the income tax by 50% if not eliminate it, or guarantee equal access to marriage for all Americans, or twist us off the path of interventionist foreign policy would be far better than anything we've seen in this country in the past century, even if we don't grant Mary Ruwart's wish list and privatize roads, eliminate age-of-consent laws, or ditch the FDA.

I will take half a loaf now, and worry about getting the second half while I'm chewing.

So this is the message for the Barr campaign: there are a lot of things I don't necessarily think you are doing right, yet, but here's two areas in which you're spot on:

1) Don't apologize for not being a virginally pure Libertarian (after all, it took most Americans a few years to discover in the light of their post 9/11 fears exactly what a danger the Patriot Act was).

2) Don't stop pitching your message to people who don't yet think of themselves as Libertarians. Otherwise, you're going to wake up one November Wednesday morning to the usual 390,000 votes and know you've simply added another chapter to the political inconsequence of the Libertarian Party.

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

"These folks are small-L libertarians, libertarian-leaning Republicans, bikers, lesbians, potheads, small businesspeople, gun nuts, and the growing proportion of the buttoned down middle class being slowly crushed to death by taxes, regulation, and the general flow of events.

When we bring them aboard, they will come not with fully formed philosophies or any real interest in internal Libertarian Party politics."

My, what an amazingly condescending, holier-than-thou comment. Truth is, you aren't going to bring anyone into the fold by insulting them, and assuming that they don't have a complete political philosophy in mind. I'm sure they have ideas, but perhaps haven't found a political 'home' for them yet.
Flies, honey, and vinegar. Just sayin'.

Steve Newton said...

I'm always amazed that people work to find insult where none is intended. Most people in America don't have fully formed political philosophies, a fact that has been demonstrated time and again in polling and research.

You encapsulate the second half of what I was trying to say: people who don't belong the LP don't give a shit about internal party politics, and at least initially they are going to see voting Libertarian as a refuge or a protest, not a home.

Thinking of the LP as home is--even for those who do live there--kind of like saying you prefer a household with abusive siblings and very little plumbing.

Brian Shields said...

Honestly, core party members are the scariest of any political party. It's the moderate members of each party that make up the vast majority of it's members. These folks aren't going to agree with 100% of the party's platform. Noone really does. Noone agrees with a politician on 100% of his platform. it's hard to find two individuals who agree 100% on anything.

A political party is made of a group of people who agree on a majority of issues, and try to move their agenda forward in the best way possible.

That's why I think Bob Barr is, for now, the best thing to happen to this party. The media attention he is getting is the free advertising Libertarians desperately need to reach the masses. he might not be the ideal Libertarian candidate, but he's doing what he needs to do to build the party, and that is getting the name out there, and getting people interested.

Just like Ron Paul got the idea of libertarianism into the main stream media, Bob Barr is going to put the party behind the ideals.

If he does this election cycle right, it'll be the best thing. The amount of displeasure at the government is at it's highest in decades, it'll be downright foolish of this party not to take full advantage of it. Doing so with a candidate that is experienced, name recognizable, and not known as being a crackpot is going to bring in fresh blood, which is what the party desperately needs.

David said...

Well said Steve and Brian. I saw Bob Barr on Friday's Glen Beck show on CNN news. Everyone should catch a replay this weekend. He was quite impressive. I hope this doesn't depress you, but he was my kind of candidate except for his flip flop on DOMA.

Please don't take me wrong on this, but I have long seen the Libertarian Party in the same vein as over rippen fruit. It is too much of a good thing. It doesn't have enough balance.