Sunday, April 5, 2009

Post No. 102: Why Aren't More Americans Members of the Libertarian Party?

We recently asked our readers to submit possible topics for discussion, and we received numerous responses. We've posted four of them thus far. Here is the fifth:

"There are many citizens who contend that our newly-elected President is, in actuality, a 'Socialist.' Many critics of the current Administration are conducting 'tea parties' around the country to protest and prevent the country's purported slide into socialism. If there is so much concern about centralized, government control of our lives, why don't more citizens join the Libertarian Party?"

We went to Wikipedia, and looked up the term, "United States Libertarian Party." An excerpt of the article appears below:

“The Libertarian Party is a United States political party…. More than 200,000 voters are registered with the party, making it one of the largest of America's alternative political parties. Hundreds of Libertarian candidates have been elected or appointed to public office, and thousands have run for office under the Libertarian banner.

“The political platform of the Libertarian Party reflects that group's particular brand of libertarianism, favoring minimally regulated, laissez-faire markets, strong civil liberties, minimally regulated migration across borders, and non-interventionism in foreign policy that respects freedom of trade and travel to all foreign countries.”

To access the complete article, simply click here.

So, tell us. Why doesn't the Libertarian Party appeal to more citizens?


  1. The Libertarian Party, and other non-Big Two parties, would stand a chance of developing viable candidates and building a larger constituency, if there were public financing of elections. As it is, the candidates with saleable gravitas and stature have no choice but to go with either the Republicans or the Democrats, in order to raise the necessary funds to run for national (and usually, for state) office.
    My supposition is that--ironically--most Libertarians would be against public funding of elections. So, they become like that fairly popular, if squeaky, guy from Texas: mere background static; victims of their own ideals. They'd rather be right than President.

  2. A mixture of apathy and "middle-roadism" would be my guess. The apathy factor is one made up of two other factors. First, there is the inheritance factor. You tend to be what your parents are (or were). Yes, I realize that many people break from their parental traditions but I do believe that most either return to them or do not break away in the first place. As we often follow the religion our parents did so, too, do we follow their politics. Second, there is group think involved. Or, put another way, political peer pressure. If most of the people you know are Democrats, the odds are heavy that you will be also. That may be an erroneous observation on my part and it is only because like minded people tend to seek each other out and to shy away from those they disagree with. Still, I believe peer pressure plays a distinct part.
    Middle-roadism is what I call the tendency for people to not want to rock the boat, to not take extreme (or what might be considered extreme) positions. We like to be agreeable, we like to be around agreeable people. Well, most of us do.

    Most of the non-mainstream parties are seen as "fringe" or "extreme" in their platforms. Or, at least, those platforms are perceived to be extreme or radical. As one learns more about them, one might find them not so radical. Or they might see them as more radical than they first thought.

    The mainstream parties are mainstream because they have done their utmost to fashion themselves that way. Each party, while leaning toward liberal or conservative, tries to broaden its appeal as much as possible. To draw in those center-right or central-left adherents.

    The non-mainstream parties don't do that, they seem to stick to the premise of "present our principles and stick to them." As rodak puts it "rather be right than president."

    I am not in favor of government funding parties. Government already funds elections, the parties do not pick up all the freight. Perhaps it would be worse if they did, perhaps it would be better if the government funded the parties but I am afraid that would give an awful lot of power to the majority party in power.

  3. Rodak, you wrote: "So, they become like that fairly popular, if squeaky, guy from Texas: mere background static; victims of their own ideals. They'd rather be right than President."

    We suspect that you are pretty much spot on. However, we'd alter your last sentence slightly, to read, "They'd rather be direct and honest than President."

  4. we'd alter your last sentence slightly, to read, "They'd rather be direct and honest than President."

    If we alter it so, however, we give up the historical allusion to Henry Clay. I'm reluctant to give up my style points for what seems to me to be a distinction without much difference.

  5. Btw, I would not be in favor of public funding of parties either. I am in favor of public funding of candidates who qualify for funding through a mechanism such as X-number of signatures on petitions. The whole point of public funding would be to greatly lessen the power of parties and let people choose candidates based on WHAT they stand FOR, rather than WHOM they stand WITH, in the partisan sense.

  6. Rodak: The reason that we suggested the replacement of the word "right," is because it suggests a rigidity in position and thought, and also that if their views are "right," then those diametrically opposed are implicitly "wrong." We do not think that anyone or any party has a lock or monopoly on being "right." That's significantly what's wrong with the debate on issues today.

    Reasonable people can differ.

  7. I don't agree with rodak on much, but I think he is correct here. The way congressional and senatorial voting rules are set up, in addition to the funding issue already discussed, it is very hard to support a minority party. Mostly, I think those who vote outside of the major parties are simply registering a vote of no-confidence with the major two.

  8. Coop: Glad to see that you and Rodak are sharing the same position on something. We doubt that many would disagree with you that a vote for a candidate affiliated with a non-mainstream party would be a vote of lack of confidence in the Big Two. However, would it be a "wasted" vote, or a "vote of little consequence and impact?"

  9. Log, a sufficient number of "wasted" will eventually become "unwasted". As I pointed out in a comment on an earlier issue, the modern Republic Party was a third party at one time. Their first national convention was in 1856. 4 years later, the managed to nominate Abraham Lincoln and get him elected as president. Thomas Jefferson was a Republican but that was a different party than the one today. In between were the Whigs. The Democratic party was originally the Democratic Republicans and was led by Andrew Jackson.

    So, I would say that third parties don't stand a chance may not be accurate. And you have to waste a few votes to alter the political landscape.

  10. Good point Douglas about votes which might initially be viewed as "wasted" evolving into votes that matter. It takes time to draw voters away from the Big Two. Any movement has to develop some momentum, and the timing has to be "right."

    We still say that a movement to vote out every single federally elected incumbent could gain momentum at this point in time. The whole situation has become "unmanageable."

  11. Log--
    One can (in fact, one must, I think) believe that he is "right" before he acts. The qualifier there is that ideally, while thinking that he is right, he must keep an open mind and be willing at all times to be shown that he is not, in fact, right--or at least not completely so. "Right" does not automatically imply "dogmatic."
    That said, one can be both honest and straightforward, and bring multitudes with him, and be dead wrong. Hitler didn't equivocate.
    So, you decide what's right; you go ahead and act on it; but you keep an open mind to both opposing thought and changing circumstances.

  12. Ahhhhh, Rodak, we might be able to live with your definition of "right" in this instance. We would prefer that someone, being forthright and honest, state that he or she believes that there is a "higher probability of achieving the mutually agreed upon goals" through the pursuit of certain actions. It's about probabilities, not certainty.

  13. PROGRAMMING ALERT!!! In roughly 5 minutes, at 3:00 pm EDST, C-Span2 Book TV will air a book discussion by Katrina Vanden Heuvel. The title of her book is "Meltdown: How Greed and Corruption Shattered Our Financial System and How We Can Recover."

    This is a discussion forum based on The Nation's coverage of economic events for 20 years. Heuvel is the Editor and Publisher of The Nation magazine.

  14. My thrice-cursed cable company has dropped C-Span2, much to my chagrin.

  15. I'm strongly against government funding for political parties, and in fact I think government involvement in parties is part of the problem. The way I see it there are two things holding back third parties:

    1) Campaign finance restrictions. Do we really think, at this point, that either the Republican or Democratic candidates would be able to simply buy an election if they just had access to more money? There's a point at which "more commercials" don't help your cause.

    On the other hand, limiting the amount of money people can give to candidates ensures that just-past-the-pole candidates will vastly out-raise their 3rd party competitors. If government didn't restrict what you could do with your money, then 3rd party candidates would only need to convince a couple rich guys to back them, and they're in the race.

    2) Primary systems. Why is it that three Republicans and four Democrats and two Libertarians can't run for the same office? They claim it's to make things less confusing, but it really just helps those in power stay in power. That's not the way it USED to be, and for good reason.

    The campaign finance restrictions ensure only mainstream parties can compete, and the primary systems ensure only mainstream politicians IN those parties can even run.

  16. Brasten: Welcome to our forum. You laid out a number of well thought-out points.

    What about the Libertarian platform or principles? Are they strong enough to outweigh or override the financial considerations? Could the platform of any third party be strong enough to draw enough voters to bypass the traditional financial obstacles? If so, what do you think would be some of those principles?

  17. Hi all--

    Interesting topic, made made more interesting to me by the fact that I've been a registered Libertarian since I registered to vote at 18.

    A few random thoughts in no particular order:

    It IS difficult to be outside of the system, as it often limits one's voting choices in primary elections.

    I have never minded "throwing away" my vote -- I think it's important for third parties to maintain presence. A piece of my bitterness toward the Bush administration was that I felt like I could no longer be a voice of a third party -- that voting for the Democrat in an "Anyone But Bush" maneuver was almost an ethical mandate.

    I have found it to be the case that the "non-joiner" types that one finds in the Libertarian Party are not always the most palatable spokespeople. I have also found this to be true in my engagements with atheist organizations. Often the mouthpiece of the group is so devastatingly abrasive (think Madalyn Murray O'Hair) that I have had to break ties, not wanting to be associated with the group (and sadly, lacking the time and energy to make attempts to change the structure/leadership of the group). The thing about "non-joiners" is that they have to be REALLY fired up about their cause in order to join a group...and sometimes being "REALLY fired up" just comes across as angry and/or petty. I'm pleased that Ron Paul has garnered a respectable following; though he's not a Lib in name, he has strong leanings, and I think he puts a nice "face" on some Libertarian ideals.

    I joined and have stayed with the Party because I'm fundamentally idealistic. I mean this on the obvious level, but also say it as an admission that I tend to neglect the actuality in favor of potentiality. Over time, I've softened on my alignment with the Libs on the fiscal side, but remain steadfast in my adherence to their platform on social freedoms.

    This said, the bitter and jaded woman in me wonders how workable Libertarian ideas/ideals actually are. I think I've lost my youthful faith that people are able to govern themselves (which libertarianism requires to a certain extent). I have ever-diminishing faith that people are able to act ethically because of a reverence for a social contract; it seems that many want to be told what to do and what to believe, and are incapable of acting independently. Libertarian ideals cannot withstand that.

    As a side note (so sorry I'm babbling) -- I once donated one of my paintings to a silent auction for the United Way. Part of the paperwork allowed me to check the organization(s) that I wanted the money from the sale of my donation to go to. I chose a rather liberal cause that was near and dear to me.

    I have wondered what things would look like if taxes worked this way. Let's say that I accept that taxation has to exist (hopefully a flat tax), but I'm allowed to "dictate" how the money I have to contribute is spent. I'm thinking roads, bio-sciences independent of Big Pharma, shelter for the homeless who are truly mentally ill, and animal population control (because it kills me to see how many feral cats are put down every year [yes, I'm a crazy spinster cat lady]). I'd have a certain affection for art programs in public schools, and while I have a vested interest in young people becoming "good" people, I think there are enough people with children who would contribute to schools, so I'd pick up the slack for the "less popular" programs.

    Just a point of curiosity -- I have no idea about the outcome...I just wonder if everyone spent their money on what was important to them...what would end up under or over funded... I suspect we'd all be short-sighted to some degree.

    Thanks for the ear(s), and for everyone's previous thoughtful comments on the matter.

  18. I'm strongly against government funding for political parties, and in fact I think government involvement in parties is part of the problem.

    Again, I haven't suggested that "government" should give money to parties; I have suggested that money be given, in identical amounts, to each qualified candidate running for a given office. I would also suggest that free air-time be available to all qualified candidates, during a prescribed period prior to the election, only. This would leave candidates free to spend their allotted funds on print ads, travel, staff, etc. as they saw fit to spend it. The airwaves belong to the people and should be made available for this important purpose.
    Public financing of elections would not strengthen the strangle-hold of the major parties on our politics, but lessen it by providing a level playing field for all candidates chosen by the people--rather than the money-men--to run for office.

  19. it seems that many want to be told what to do and what to believe, and are incapable of acting independently. Libertarian ideals cannot withstand that.


  20. Cayenne Linke: Welcome to our forum.

    We were very impressed with your discussion of your decision to join the Libertarian Party, and perhaps more importantly, the manner in which you described your participation and thought process since joining. It was a very well thought out position. (BTW, you weren't rambling.)

    In an earlier comment, Douglas very accurately (at least according to legendary political scientists Dye and Ziegler) reminded us that most people simply follow the practices of their parents and friends. All of us should respect appreciate your thought process, be we Democrats, Republicans, or some other party.

    Check out some of the other articles, particularly the recent ones about whether the government should be involved, to any extent, in the lives of American citizens. You might find them interesting.

    We can tell that you've spent a lot of time THINKING about your party affiliation. You've always welcome here.

  21. Can anyone come up with a system which does not require a candidate to have any financial resources at all? Can we eliminate the role of money in choosing our elected officials, or keep it to a minimum?

  22. Cayenne Linke said, and Rodak highlighted:

    "[I]t seems that many want to be told what to do and what to believe, and are incapable of acting independently."

    That's generally been the case with humankind, much as we can tell from recorded history. However, the current set of circumstances in which we find ourselves may prompt some changes. We are very concerned about the "manipulation" of information out there on which people may base their actions and decisions. While we are by no means advocating censorship, there is quite a bit of spinning, framing, and use of inaccurate information to achieve the narrow, selfish goals of some groups.

    The disingenuous nature of many assertions by our leaders, and those who have access to the media outlets, and the lack of critical analysis on the part of the public, is of great concern to us, and will be the subject of an upcoming article.

  23. All political campaigning has become about the "spin". A little truth, a little lying, a lot of distortion and you have a campaign. It depends upon what the meaning of "is" is. Nothing is as it seems and the real facts are not revealed until after the votes are cast. We all know this and we all ignore it to some extent. The ones that don't seethe and complain but the majority don't listen. That's how McCain is a moderate during the primaries and a conservative as the presidential candidate. It's how Obama is a liberal to one crowd and a moderate to another.

    And then you have the special interest groups. Not just business but environmental, unions, the NRA, the anti-gun lobby, the pro-life and pro-choice groups. All distort, all spin, all lie.

  24. Douglas: Where we would disagree with you is in connection with your use of the word "all" sprinkled throughout your comment. We realize that you are a cynic, but "all" would suggest a complete, utter loss of faith in the whole process and institution, and our impression of you is that you're not quite there yet.

    Yes, significant, substantial, even perhaps more often than not, but not "all." We hear some voices and messages of reason. We hear the facts itemized on occasion. We hear some straight talking from some candidates, for example, Ron Paul, Ross Perot, and Pat Buchanan. Even Ralph Nader appears to be a straight shooter, but his emotions have clouded his message on too many occasions.

    If you truly feel that it's all BS, you and anyone who feels similarly ought to just walk away from it all. Continuing to dwell in a space where the political world about you is all BS will make anyone a very jaded and bitter person. Most humans need to feel that there is hope and some glimmer of light.

  25. American Sheeple want to B on a winning team. As the minority, Libertarians can't win. It's the proverbial Catch-22.

  26. Log, you are correct, I am not quite a complete cynic but close. I would say I intended to present an attitude toward political campaigns. Assume anything told to you is a lie or at least greatly distorted. Then research the candidate's history, his/her voting record, try to get a feel for the candidate's values and principles. If you can.

    Even if I become completely cynical, I will still participate. Giving up on the system is not a viable option for me. Even if I am having to choose between the lesser of two evils, at least I have some choice. Giving up means having no voice at all.

  27. In national politics, in terms of winning elections, things are stacked ridiculously high against Libertarians. Off the top of my head

    1) A busy/apathetic electorate that only votes based on a limited amount of information.

    2) A two party system that sets up a political Pascal's wager where to many voters, the horrible prospect of one of the parties winning keeps them voting for the other party.

    3) A philosophy of independence that tends to cut against grouping together and against attracting the types of people inclined to evangelize to others about how they ought to think.

    4) A tendency of preferring idealism over pragmatism.

    Like I said, just off the top of my head.


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