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May 25, 2004
The Libertarian Threat?

CBS News makes quite a splash today with an analysis of the presidential election and the impact that the Libertarian Party will have on conservative voters this fall. Despite a decades-long history of utter futility and the consistent selection of obscure candidates, suddenly CBS thinks that a Libertarian challenge to Bush's war and budget policies could spell the difference between his re-election and his defeat:

With conservatives upset over the ballooning size of the federal government under a Republican White House and Congress and a portion of the political right having opposed the war in Iraq from the start or else dismayed at how it's being handled the Libertarian nominee, who will be on the ballot in 49 states, may do for Democrats in 2004 what Nader did for Republicans in 2000.

It is a hypothesis not yet made in the mainstream media. But interviews with third-party experts and activists across the country, as well as recent political patterns, illustrate that there could be a conservative rear-guard political attack against President Bush.

If the hypothesis has not yet been floated in the mainstream media, it's because the hypothesis is silly on its face. CBS compares the Libertarian challenge to Ralph Nader's outsider campaign (so outside he dumped the Greens this time around), but the comparison is invalid. First, Nader has a built-in national following that none of the Libertarians have, and a solid name-recognition factor. Second, Nader's approach appeals to a distinct minority of the Democratic party, while Libertarian philosophy is all over the place:

Libertarians are essentially fiscally conservative and socially liberal. They are against the war in Iraq, as well as deficits and big-government bills like the recent Medicare legislation. They are against any form of gun control. But they also support gay rights, abortion rights and less stringent drug laws.

CBS undersells the actual Libertarian positions. The Libertarian platform routinely includes complete decriminalization of drug use as well as prostitution, unfettered abortion rights, and strict Constitutionalism, the latter point being nearly the only intersection with mainstream Republicanism. Big-L Libertarians not only would like to dismantle most of the federal government but also much of state and local government as well. These Libertarians aren't "conservatives" in any sense; they exist on another pole on the political spectrum altogether.

Don't get me wrong -- I often refer to myself as a quasi-libertarian in political philosophy, and the guys at QandO recently had a great post on Neolibertarianism that comes as close to a coherent libertarian philosophy as anything I've seen. I believe that the government which governs least governs best -- within the parameters of reality. The Libertarian Party, unfortunately, takes a great idea and pounds it into irrationality.

Could the Libertarian Party ever mount an effective challenge to the Republicans on a national basis? I doubt it, in its present configuration. The Greens have a better chance at sucking up the Democrats' oxygen in the short run, even without Ralph Nader. Until the Libertarians get a nationally-recognized leader to lead the ticket and capture at least a portion of the conservative imagination and modify their platform considerably, they won't make a dent. And if they did all of that, wouldn't they wind up resembling either of the two major parties anyway?

Addendum: Note that CBS News uses Grover Norquist as a source on this analysis. Norquist, you may remember, was taken to task by Frank Gaffney for allowing radical Islamists to infiltrate his organization. If Norquist is agitating for the anti-war Libertarians, CBS should have included a little context for this. In fact, it was my post this very article on Norquist which started my association with Hugh Hewitt and the Northern Alliance gang.

Speaking of which, I need to thank Hugh for referring to Captain's Quarters as a "must read" for the blogosphere, as well as his kind words regarding the First Mate in his last show before his vacation. Hugh's keen intellect and sharp wit are admirable, but his graciousness and thoughtfulness even more so.

UPDATE: Dr. Kate from Urban Farmhouse gives a great response from the rational Libertarian front, after kindly linking to this post:

I don't belong to the Massachusetts Libertarian Party organization because I refuse to sign the new member pledge:
I certify that I do not believe in or advocate the initiation of force as a means of achieving political or social goals.

That reduces a constellation of worthy goals to a single-issue peacenik agenda.

You see, the Farmhouse - as l/Libertarian as we are - are two rock solid votes for Bush, come November. We're not the only ones. In fact, all the registered Libs I know are planning to vote for Bush. In Massachusetts, that's saying something, because a vote for anyone but the Democratic nominee is generally a symbolic vote only, which is how the Libs and the Greens manage to be registered parties here. I fall more into Roger Simon's camp, as much as a libertarian can stand to fall into anyone's camp: "I'm putting some of my stuff on hold for a few years."

I hadn't heard about the pledge before, and I think it's perfectly idiotic. Even the Democrats and Republicans don't require or request that members pledge to specific policy stances. Yet another reason the Libertarian candidate won't provide much of an impact -- again.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at May 25, 2004 11:30 AM

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» Silly Libertarians? from Right Side of the Rainbow
Ed Morrissey, a fellow Republican who blogs at the popular Captain’s Quarters, dismisses as “silly on its face” a report that Libertarian voters may pose a danger to President Bush’s re-election. But I’m not sure that it is silly. I... [Read More]

Tracked on May 24, 2004 11:08 PM

» Just to make things perfectly muddy from The Urban Farmhouse
I'm a libertarian, and since I'm registered with the Commonwealth of Massachusetts as a big-L Libertarian (keep meaning to change that to unenrolled but I'm lazy), I guess I could be included in the sort of person that Glenn and... [Read More]

Tracked on May 25, 2004 8:48 AM

» libertarians threat to bush from Clay Whittaker
The USA Today may have finally gotten one right. They suggest that the libertarians may ne a threat to Bush's reelection. I believe their is a point where rightists needs to step in and make it known that Bush can't... [Read More]

Tracked on May 25, 2004 8:48 PM

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