The Libertarian Matrix
Unsurprisingly, third-party talk has swirled up following the Republicans’ electoral loss in 2012. The dark days after a big election are prime hunting season for third-party boosters. When are they going to have a better chance to find new recruits? And if they really were going to get a major new party started, there would be no more practical time to start. The next election begins the day after the last one, and if you don’t have a competitive national party apparatus yet, you don’t have any time to lose.
Unfortunately, third parties are suicide. It might be useful to have more than two major parties, but we don’t. I doubt we ever will. If a real, competitive third party got completely up and running, it would either achieve a stalemate with one of the existing parties – guaranteeing a very long, nearly effortless era of power for the remaining option – or it would overwhelm and consume the one it split off from, after a long and painful wrestling match.
The Libertarian vote for Gary Johnson was a dangerous factor in the 2012 election. If things had gone differently in a few other places, it could have settled the election for Obama in states like Florida. One of the reasons Romney lost is that a good number of his potential voters stayed home. Libertarian third party boosters yelling that there isn’t a dime’s worth of difference between the two candidates contributes to apathy among small-”l” libertarian types, who might otherwise vote Republican. It wasn’t decisive this time – no one can honestly say that any third party was responsible for the outcome of the 2012 election – but it’s a factor to consider, in full measure, before it does become decisive.
We don’t live in a political environment where a robust third party could drain support from both of the existing Republican and Democrat constituencies and establish a stable three-way division of power, or where a couple of right- and left-leaning could simultaneously appear to set up a four-way contest. Ross Perot’s Reform Party came as close to accomplishing a three-way split in 1992 as anyone is likely to, but it didn’t work out, and the landscape is different now. The party of the State is organized and aggressive. It would love nothing better than to face squabbling, divided prey for a generation.
The big-L Libertarian philosophy became, in practice, the perfect teaming up with the unbearable to become the mortal enemy of the good. There is no comfort for anyone of libertarian leanings to be found in a second term for the greatest opponent of individual liberty in the modern age, coupled with an even more Left-leaning Senate. This is not just going to be an unpleasant four years, after which a better Libertarian candidate than Johnson can swing in to set things right. Aspects of American life are being changed, for the long term. Ground is being lost at blinding speed; legislation cobbled together with a few months of back-room deals is doing damage that could take a lifetime to heal. In this game of chess, the statists are getting six moves to your one, Libertarians.
A small-”l” libertarian is someone who just wants to be left alone by his government. I fully appreciate that. But guess what? You’re not going to be left alone by your government. As the old saying goes, you might not be interested in the State, but it is most certainly interested in you. What’s happening in Washington right now is not a distant circus you can refuse to attend. It’s coming for you, and you cannot hide from it. Resist, or submit.
Resistance requires influence. What’s the point of winning theoretical debates with each other while the world is being changed around you? The difference between big-L Libertarians and the little-l variety is that the capitalized species only talks, and listens, to each other. That is the difference between the passive and the active… between stubborn hoarding of treasured principles, and the retail sale of powerful ideas.
The Republican Party is often very disappointing from a libertarian perspective. So take it over. Change it. Improve it. Yes, it’s very hard to do. Things are tough out here in the desert of the real world. It’s so much more comfortable back in the Matrix. But we’re all out of blue pills. They’ve been regulated away by ObamaCare.
One of the quickest voices to begin calling for a new third-party initiative was former Republican candidate Herman Cain. “We need a third party to save this country,” Cain told radio host Bryan Fischer on Wednesday. “This country is in trouble and it is clear that neither party is going to fix the problems we face… I don’t believe the Republican Party has the ability to re-brand itself against the mainstream media machine that blatantly works to support this president and other liberals as well as the Democrats.”
That’s the problem: the task Cain describes is not a matter of “re-branding.” And it won’t be solved by introducing an exciting new “brand” that contains 99.9 percent less money and organizational power. A few early interviews from curious media types, eager to explore the new phenomenon – and maybe build it into something that can do real damage to Republicans, for the benefit of Democrats – will not result in the sustained influence necessary to defeat that mainstream media machine. We don’t need a third party riding around in the baby seat of that media machine.
Cain correctly noted that it would “take money, leadership, and at least fifty coalitions to create a viable third party,” saying “you need one for every state because of the wacky rules state-by-state that they have, that make it difficult for a third party to emerge.” Such state organizations are also necessary to build the congressional support that would help a third-party leader actually get legislation passed.
And that’s why it’s never going to happen. Those state and local organizations take both money and time to establish. You can buy the kind of team it takes to get on all 50 state ballots with money and some good staffers, but the kind that would actually deliver electoral votes or congressional seats are not available for purchase off the shelf. Take a look at how the 2012 election worked out. A lot of Obama’s winning swing state votes were delivered by massive union and big-city machines that have existed for decades, sometimes over a century. The Republicans have machinery that can, with the proper leadership and good candidates, effectively do battle with that. But nobody else does.
Herman Cain, who I like quite a bit, was a promising contender in the early rounds of the GOP primary. I was in the audience when he took over the show at the debate in Orlando, and won a straw poll that has previously predicted the actual nominee with great accuracy. The venue was electric that night. But then Cain got wiped out – partly by scandal, but largely by his own shortcomings as a candidate. He was no match for the guy who just lost to the most painfully obvious presidential failure in a generation. If third-party champions can’t beat the Republican Establishment squishes they deplore, they’ve got little chance against the nuclear-powered, titanium-armored Democrat war machine.
There’s no reason the Republican Party can’t put together a winning coalition from the liberty-minded groups currently engaged in a round of understandable finger-pointing. If you want to blame the GOP leadership for that, be my guest. Then you need to beat them, co-opt them, whip them into shape, or whatever it takes to put a trim political battleship into the water for 2016. Those Establishment guys, particularly the campaign big shots and money men, would really like to win some elections, and if you can convince them you have realistic plans for gaining the popular support needed to win, I guarantee you will get their attention. There is no time for further daydreams, because night is falling.