Singing the Libertarian Party blues

Harrison Leonard

With the recent midterm elections now behind us, I’ve been thinking a lot about competing concepts in the application of ideology. You know, the whole “principle versus pragmatism” debate.

On Nov. 2, my Libertarian Party performed about as well as expected (i.e., no one of significance was elected). It certainly makes one reassess under which umbrella one’s political convictions can be best utilized. But I hate Democrats, and I just can’t stomach the thought of registering Republican. I’m politically homeless; I suspect many people feel that way.

A strong ideological identity is a wonderful characteristic to expect from our elected officials. In fact, it isn’t difficult to argue that many of America’s problems today stem from either the inability or unwillingness of her leaders to take stands based on principle.

But that is an easy cop-out, isn’t it? It doesn’t take much effort to denigrate “the politicians” as being spineless, self-absorbed bastards. We hear it from our friends and neighbors almost daily.

Arrogant. Egocentric. Chameleonic. Lacking backbone. But are there any instances where political leaders suffer from too much virtue?

Suggesting it almost seems silly. Of course we want our representatives to be persons of honor. Americans like individuals of strong character. We prefer people who will act decisively and stand by their decisions.

We respect folks who “go with their gut”, and yet we Americans, a sensible bunch, do have an aversion to ideological purity. There is a fine line between the two, a line I’m having trouble putting into words. But we know it when we see it. Maybe “stubbornness” or “rigidity” most accurately describes the point at which high-minded ideological purity turns into aggravating pigheadedness.

One has to deal with the consequences of this Utopian sterility as a member of the Libertarian Party. Libertarians pride themselves on being “The Party of Principle.” And indeed, whether you agree with its substance or not, one must acknowledge a strong intellectual consistency inherent in the Libertarian Party platform.

I also blame this rigidity as the primary factor behind why there are no elected Libertarians in positions of political significance.

Some Libertarians simply appear unwilling to budge on practical policy application: School vouchers. Private Social Security Accounts. HSA’s. All concepts that present a viable opportunity to both inject competition into failing programs and also serve as pretexts for ending the federal monopoly on personal choice and private industry. All opposed by (many) Libertarians due to cerebral whimsies.

Now, look, I get it. I’m no great fan of using public dollars to fund private religious-based education, and all the rest. This is all well and good in terms of integrity. And these intellectual debates serve a purpose.

But there comes a point (like 39 years of party existence with nothing to show for it except a bunch of registered voters) where some might say, “Hey, listen. We like you. Your platform rocks and we need people who espouse your values wandering the halls of Congress. But something obviously isn’t working. So please piss or get off the pot.”

I appreciate and admire the resoluteness with which my party avoids sacrificing ideals for the sake of political gain. I also possess no illusions about the complexities of taking away the peoples’ “free stuff” by slashing the welfare state.

It is not easy to make the United States of America a better place in big, sweeping steps. Barack Obama has proved this beyond the shadow of a doubt. Society is best improved incrementally, and Libertarians can win elections when they finally get this.

Success doesn’t have to come at the expense of integrity, either. That is a false dichotomy. Goals need not change for people to adopt different tactical means for reaching those goals.

I’d like to think that a successful political philosophy could be likened to a freeway. Every freeway I’ve traveled on has a shoulder and a center divider. Like a strong philosophical foundation, these are clearly defined lines you never cross.

But in between every shoulder and center divider, there are multiple lanes. These lanes allow for maneuverability, and exist for optimum harmony on the road. Bigger, more renowned freeways have more lanes, and thus accommodate more drivers.

We hope that drivers don’t recklessly travel between lanes without first considering a multitude of factors, though some inevitably do. But the fact that they do doesn’t negate the obvious benefits of a large freeway. A bustling freeway means more people, and that is a good thing in politics if you want to be successful.

The Libertarian Party is a small freeway with one lane. A shoulder and center divider occupies either side of its one-way road. When it wants to win, it will have to grow.

Iron will is not the only hindrance to its growth, of course. Republicans and Democrats agree on one thing: they like being the only two parties in power. And they have rigged the laws so it is almost impossible for third party candidates to make a difference in state and national elections.

I don’t know the right way to expand it effectively, because I happen to love the Libertarian platform. All I know is there are a lot of disgruntled conservatives who are coming around to the realization that the Republican Party will not really shrink government.

And there are, thanks to President Obama, a lot of “progressives” who are coming around to the realization that the Democratic Party does not really represent freedom or peace. The LP has a chance to capitalize on their disillusionment. It will be fascinating to see if they can do that without abandoning their roots, so to speak.

Despite all my conjecture, I don’t have a lot concrete answers. My thoughts are just that, and I don’t want to claim final authority on these concepts. I guess I’m better at finding faults than identifying solutions. But as time goes on, I hope we can get closer to pinpointing the answers.