Thought You'd Never Ask

Just mouthing off -- because I can.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

The libertarian option

Best overheard remark made by a libertarian yesterday:

Q. Who are you voting for?

Libertarian: The Democrat.

Q. What??? I thought you were a Libertarian!

Libertarian: I am. But when the only real choice that matters in our state is the Presidential choice between a Democrat and a Socialist, I'll vote for the Democrat.

Ba-doom.

It takes a moment to get that one, but I thought it was pretty clever. And apt. Get it? McCain = Democrat; Obama = Socialist? Libertarian in this case = a pragmatist. Sweet. Sweet to me, that is, a libertarian. A Libertarian, on the other hand, would be miffed about a vote for anyone but the Libertarian candidate.

Oh, those Libertarians. Big L or little l? It can get very confusing and amorphous as Libertarians and libertarians get into spats.

Personal history: I became aware of the new Big-L Libertarian Party when I was living on the South Side of Chicago (yes, that part of Chicago, the neighborhood of Barack Obama, Bill Ayers, and Louis Farrakhan) in the late 1970's. It was and is also the neighborhood of the University of Chicago, home of free-market economics, and many of my neighbors and intimates were grad students in the Econ Department and the B-School, the so-called "Chicago Boys." Anyway, such things were widely discussed, and I was quite excited to see the kind of Ayn Randian/Objectivist principles I had already embraced for several years emerging as the proposed foundation of the new Libertarian national party.

So, in 1980 I was very swept up in the Libertarian Party's petitioning battle for ballot access in all 50 states in that year's election. The Libertarian Party managed to gain ballot access in every state. No other third party had accomplished that since 1916 when the Socialist Party did it. The Libertarian ticket of Ed Clark and David H. Koch earned just over one percent of the popular vote (including mine), and was the most successful Libertarian presidential campaign up to then. I was as proud to vote on principles as anybody in their 20's can be, and cast my own South Side Chicago vote for Ed Clark that year. I remember surrounding myself with a prolific supply of green and white Ed Clark for President buttons and bumper stickers. But I do confess I also enjoyed watching Ronald Reagan as a Goldwater-esque conservative on the campaign trail. Knowing the Libertarians were a fledgling party that needed my symbolic vote, I was nevertheless very happy that Reagan bested the disastrous Carter and the irrelevant John Anderson that year. I was also glad when Reagan proposed free-market and/or libertarian policies, and, later, when Newt Gingrich or other Republicans adopted libertarian principles (small government, privitization, etc.).

In the years since then, I have learned to weigh the value of voting Libertarian against the danger of the Republican candidate losing, depending on where I was living, and voted accordingly. Since the 1980 election I have lived and voted in California (where I attended Libertarian Party meetings and knew some in the loose crowd that included Bob Poole, freedom and privatization proponent, former editor of Reason magazine and founder of the Reason Foundation), North Carolina (where I first encountered the colorful political terms "yellow dog Democrat" and Jesse Helms' name for the media, "egg-suck mule"), and the Commonwealth of Virginia (where one of Elizabeth Taylor's husbands was my senator).

I now live in a nameless flyover state where I improbably find a libertarian (with a small-l) radio talk show host, Neal Boortz, daily entertaining and educating the common man (like Joe the Plumber) about the issues and raising the general consciousness about economic and political verities. In the current election, Boortz agrees with other pragmatic small-l libertarians: in a tight race it is better to vote for a Democrat than a Socialist. I also agree with Boortz that the big-L Libertarian Party has not turned out to be what it once promised to be. I now tend to agree with Michael Medved that it has now become the Losertarian Party--at best, a spoiler in local and national elections, and at worst, a fantasy haven ("the political equivalent of a Star Trek convention") for social misfits unserious about the political process. Some of these people and their expressed views give the general conception of libertarian thought a bad name.

Maybe I just grew up--or old--or something. I still believe in libertarian principles. But perhaps, almost 30 years after the Ed Clark vote, and after all the votes that followed, and all the years of tempering, chastening, enlightening life that followed, I am perhaps more of a fusion libertarian-conservative in the Buckley mold. It remains to be seen whether my own experience is common, or telling, or worth anything, and if it is, what that means for our country's future, or the future (if any) of the Republican Party.


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