Why the Libertarian Party Fails
August 13, 2014
Many in America’s freedom movement still hope that the Libertarian Party will one day become a power on the political scene to challenge the Democrat-Republican monolith. But in 42 years it hasn’t happened, and it probably won’t happen. There are some very distinct reasons why the LP and all other alternative / independent parties fail. This essay will examine them.
Let’s take, for example, the top independent parties out there: the Libertarian Party and the Constitution Party. Even though each of them have appeared at times to be a start toward genuine political reform, they repeatedly fail because they have structured themselves upon the mistake of instant idealism, which leads to their marginalization.
This mistake is made because these two parties both have “ideal visions” of the way they feel society should be politically organized, and they attempt to implement their visions all at once through the political process. They ignore the fact that politics is a game of incrementalism, that it is not an arena in which an "ideal society" can suddenly be voted into place. Because they try to do this, they are perceived by the public as not living in the real world.
For example, when asked what tax policy they advocate for the country, libertarians reply that the income tax should be abolished and government should be stripped down to a minimal state that can exist upon excise taxes and tariffs. This would be the limited government that the Founders advocated, which, of course, would be wonderful to have. But it is not a credible political platform to be gained through a political campaign today. It is rather an "ideal" that we can approach over the next 50-100 years. The members of the Constitution Party respond in the same way. Both of these parties wish to instantly implement their visions of the ideal. There is no acceptance of the need for incrementalism upon which all of politics is based.
As a result, both of these parties frighten the electorate with dissolution of the welfare state. Consequently they are marginalized as foolishly utopian. They end up getting at best 1% of the vote on Election Day. They remain obscure fringe voices. No national media pursue them, no nationally prominent candidates seek to run under their banner, no big money flows into their coffers, and most importantly they are never invited to the national TV presidential debates.
How We Solve the Problem
This is the crucial mistake that any independent party challenge of the establishment must avoid: instant idealism. If an independent party wishes to become viable and succeed, it must offer radical enough change to separate itself from the Democrat-Republican monopoly, but not so radical that it frightens the voters and becomes marginalized.
This is how the National Independent Party is structured. Its Four Pillars of Reform for our tax, monetary, immigration, and foreign policy systems will stop the growth of government, but will not create fear among the voters and lead to marginalization. This will allow the party to attract a nationally prominent candidate to head the ticket who can command 30% plus in the polls (like Ross Perot in 1992), which will mandate that he be invited to participate in the national TV presidential debates. This will bring major media to hang out on his front doorstep as well as major money into the campaign’s coffers.
Blending Idealism and Practicality
To bring this about will require a blend of idealism and practicality, which means incremental policy proposals. For example, the National Independent Party candidate cannot campaign on “ending the income tax and the Fed” like Ron Paul did. This will marginalize him (as it did Ron Paul) and bring him only 10%-12% of the vote, which will keep him out of the national TV presidential debates. Absence from the debates guarantees failure.
What needs to be done is to recruit a prominent free-market conservative such as Ted Cruz or Mike Lee to campaign on the Four Pillars of Reform upon which the National Independent Party is structured. These Four Pillars are:
1) Enact a simplified 15% flat tax, explaining that it is the only tax compatible with our founding principle – “equal rights under the law.” By ending progressive tax rates, we will stop the redistribution of wealth that allows government to grow so relentlessly.
2) Enact Milton Friedman’s 4% auto-expansion plan for the Federal Reserve. By ending the arbitrary expansion of money by the FOMC, we will reduce annual price inflation in our economy to zero.
3) Vigorously crack down on illegal immigration by eliminating the magnets of jobs, welfare services, education, etc. that draw illegals to America. No amnesty will be granted; self-deportation will be implemented.
4) End our militaristic, police-the-world foreign policy that is bankrupting us both financially and morally. The dangers to America do not lie in foreign lands; they lie here at home in Washington.
The above four reforms do not achieve the ideal. But they will dramatically stop the runaway freight train of government growth and restore freedom and sanity to America.
Yes, Ron Paul is right. We eventually need to abolish the income tax and the Fed. But this will take 40 years to bring about, maybe longer. A whole new generation of scholars and pundits will have to be ushered in to educate the people as to the merits of such goals. These proposals are not something that a political candidate can base his campaign on today if he wishes to get into the national TV presidential debates, which he must do if he intends to be effective. No candidate or party has a chance unless they are in the debates.
This means the national “election” debates, not the primary “nomination” debates. The primary nomination debates, are viewed by only about 15 million viewers on cable TV and are minor league affairs. Also they are not mandated to give equal time to all candidates. Thus the statist moderators can ignore a freedom candidate, which is what they did to Ron Paul.
The national election debates, with 70 million viewers, are carried by the major networks and are big league affairs. Also they are mandated to give equal time to all candidates. A freedom candidate cannot be ignored. This is why the national debates are so important in the fight to save freedom; they give us a means to dramatically reach the people.
Crucial Facts of Reality
The Libertarian and Constitution Parties appear to be oblivious to these crucial facts of reality about politics in America. As a result they get only 1% of the vote on Election Day. If freedom is to be saved, it cannot be marginalized. It must be portrayed in a sane, non-threatening manner. Unfortunately, the Libertarian and Constitution Parties do not do this, and consequently they fail.
Tragically our media pundits don’t think these things through and, thus, ritualistically condemn alternative / independent political parties to the American people. They fail to see that it is not independent parties that “will never work.” It is independent parties that marginalize themselves that will never work.
Avoid marginalization, and an independent party challenge to the Democrat-Republican monopoly would sweep to victory. The American people are ready for such a challenge. The latest Gallup poll in January of 2014 shows that 42% of voters identify as “independent,” while only 31% identify as Democrats and 25% as Republicans.
The people are overwhelmingly with us, but just don’t know it yet because nobody has come along to explain it to them. This is what a National Independent Party candidate (such as Cruz or Lee) would do. Subconsciously Americans are sick to death with the Democrat-Republican monolith. An NIP candidate will bring all this to the surface in tens of millions of voters.
Ross Perot showed us the way strategically in 1992. By getting into the national TV presidential debates, a candidate can tap into the massive antagonism toward the Democrat-Republican monopoly lurking in the American voters' minds. All we need to do to improve on Perot’s performance (and win) is run a nationally prominent conservative candidate that espouses "freedom" instead of the "vague reformism" that Perot preached. The American people are ready for this. As sure as the sun will rise tomorrow, this revolution is coming to America. Victor Hugo said it best: “There is nothing more powerful in history than an idea whose time has come.”
Nelson Hultberg is a freelance writer in Dallas, Texas and the Director of Americans for a Free Republic www.afr.org. His articles have appeared over the past 20 years in such publications as The Dallas Morning News, American Conservative, Insight, The Freeman, Liberty, and The Social Critic, as well as on numerous Internet sites such as Capitol Hill Outsider, Conservative Action Alerts, Daily Paul, Canada Free Press, The Daily Bell, etc. He is the author of The Golden Mean: Libertarian Politics, Conservative Values.