Friday, December 12, 2008

Thinking about (argh!) winning elections

I wrote this about a week ago:

It has been my observation that too many Libertarian candidates (allowing for the unequal playing field and no money) want to talk about (a) what the government has done wrong; (b) what the government should not be doing in the first place; and (c) how they will shrink the government. This is, you say, the essence of Libertarian candidacy and candidates, but I think it is a combination that--by itself--perpetually guarantees the Libertarian movement will not achieve electoral success above the range of 5-6%.

[And that's OK by a lot of anarcho-capitalists, minarchists, and others...]

But the reality is that we live in an era wherein a huge government bureaucracy exists, and is not going to be magically eliminated by the stroke of anyone's pen. So people have the right (not the mention the urge) to know not just what a candidate won't do in the government, but what he or she will do. And people have the expectation that winning candidates will understand both public policy and how to get things done in government.


Now Waldo, picking up a post about what is lacking in GOP efforts to reinvent the Republican Party, offers this from Greg Andres:

Here's the real problem. Too often Republicans begin by talking ideology as opposed to solutions. They start with cutting taxes, balancing the budget and less government, but forget to say, "why?" Instead, begin with outcomes - more jobs, affordable health care and better education. Ideology is a means to these ends - not the end itself.

Many Republican governors understand these narrative nuances. Minnesota's Tim Pawlenty has it right when he says the GOP must appeal to "Sam's Club" as opposed to "country club" voters. Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour said in a recent interview that his party needs to ask: "How do free markets and capitalism apply to the question 'Can I make a living?'"

Excessive "ideology-speak" particularly harms Republicans with swing voters. Research shows these Americans are more interested in solutions than philosophical debates. Promoting ideology first makes Republicans sound out of touch or even wacky to those who don't live and breathe politics.


This analysis continues to make sense to me. Paraphrasing Haley Barbour [I'm going to hate myself for this in the morning]:

How do free markets and less government apply to the question 'Can I make a living?'"

Quite frankly, Americans are scared right now, and frightened people (think Weimar) are notorious for trading in freedom for security and predictability. And in the day to day struggle for existence that the past two decades of struggle between big-government progressives and big-government conservatives has gifted to us, I don't blame them one bit.

When you are hungry or your children are sick, it is difficult to take the long view.

And, in fact, even the major political parties don't generally advertise the long view, either.

As Michael Munger points out

We don't generally ask "liberals" what their nirvana would look like. We are satisfied with a direction: more government, more redistribution. The "Libertarian Vice" only exists because people look at the reductio ad absurdum version, not the direction.


Libertarians need to begin emphasizing how short-run, freedom-oriented solutions will improve the lives of American citizens.

I believe we can do this, and over the next couple of weeks I'll try to set up that template.

7 comments:

Delaware Watch said...

"We don't generally ask "liberals" what their nirvana would look like. "

I don't think I qualify as a liberal because I believe a progressive is a different critter (although I have used the label liberal to describe myself just to further a conversation w/o being bogged down w/ making the distinction). Nevertheless, I can tell you what my achievable best state model would look like: Finland and Sweden.

Zafo Jones said...

The only problems with Finland and Sweden is the amount of talent and skill that is wasted as a consequence of the nanny state. Sure, they have some of the highest literacy rates and good health care, but the cost is some of the highest rates of unemployment, underemployment, and alcoholism in the world. And you want to talk about black markets? Sweden has the largest alcohol black market in the world because they tax it so much that it makes it worth it to get it smuggled in from Denmark. People certainly shouldn't starve to death or die from preventable diseases, but American democracy and freedom has to come with the subsequent responsibility to deal with the consequences of free choice, for good or for ill. America's problem is that we want it all...we privatize success (CEOs with multimillion dollar bonuses) but we socialize failures (bailouts for everyone!). That is a ticket straight to government hell, whether you're a leftist or a rightist.

Steve Newton said...

Dana
While I appreciate your honesty, you would admit that, as a practical issue of politics, if a Democratic politican ran on turning the US into Sweden, she would not do very well, even in today's electorate.

More to the point (and this is the issue with Libertarians) you would tend to lose a lot of people who might be willing to go, say, half-way to Sweden with you.

For the record: I don't want a country that looks like Finland or Sweden (too cold and I never liked Volvos); more to the point I do not believe that model could ever survive the transition to the scale of this country and the heterogeniety of our population.

Delaware Watch said...

"While I appreciate your honesty, you would admit that, as a practical issue of politics, if a Democratic politican ran on turning the US into Sweden, she would not do very well, even in today's electorate."

I think plenty of polls show that the basic values of US citizens are more or less social democratic. The reason those values don't prevail politically have much more to do w/ the power of vested interest over the political process.

"more to the point I do not believe that model could ever survive the transition to the scale of this country and the heterogeniety of our population"

I see no inherent barrier to the USA becoming a social democratic society because of its scale and heterogenity. I don't even have an intuition for why that would be so. But I do think that heterogenity of US society is a barrier to it becoming a Libertarian one. All those people thrown back on their own survival w/o any social cohesion or governmental supports in a maximized competitive environment. I think it would devolve w/i the span of one generation into chaos.

Delaware Watch said...

"The only problems with Finland and Sweden is the amount of talent and skill that is wasted as a consequence of the nanny state."

Proof?

"Sure, they have some of the highest literacy rates and good health care, but the cost is some of the highest rates of unemployment, underemployment, and alcoholism in the world"

Proof?

I am not saying these societies are perfect, only better than the US on the whole.

Bowly said...

In your ideal social democracy, how much money would it cost me to buy back my freedom after you take it away? The only barrier to the US becoming a libertarian society are people like you who think you have the right to the lives of others. Unfortunately there are a lot of you.

Delaware Watch said...

"In your ideal social democracy, how much money would it cost me to buy back my freedom after you take it away?"

I'll send you access to my paypal account so you can make a down payment now. :)