Does the Libertarian Party hurt libertarianism?

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Randy Barnett, writing at the Volokh Conspiracy, urges libertarians to refocus on getting libertarian candidates to succeed within the two-party system:

Libertarians should stop thinking of parties as teams and think of them instead as the playoffs. In NFL football terms, The Democrats are the AFC and the Republicans the NFC. To get into the Superbowl, you have to survive the season and the playoffs in your respective conference. In effect, Libertarians want to form their own league which no one but themselves is interested in watching. And they assure themselves of never making the playoffs much less the Superbowl.

The analogy is apt, especially because of ballot access laws that institutionalize the two parties in many states (Oklahoma, particularly), the way legislative bodies organize themselves into majority and minority caucuses, and a voting system that penalizes third-party votes -- vote for a third-party candidate in our first-past-the-post system and you probably help your least favorite candidate.

In another post, he points out that the existence of the Libertarian Party drains libertarian activists from the two major parties, giving them less influence.

The same message applies to conservatives who are tempted to leave the Republican Party for, say, a minor party like the Constitution Party.

Speaking of ballot access, I'm proud to see that Owasso Senator Randy Brogdon is the Senate sponsor of a ballot access reform bill for Oklahoma. Sen. Brogdon has frequently demonstrated the courage of his convictions, and I predict bigger and better things for him down the road. At least I hope so.


Steve Smith said:

I agree with the comment on how libertarians (or any other political action or idea) should make their arguments heard -
Political parties, like computers, marriage and football, work best in a binary system. The playoff analogy is a good one. I would say everything that leads to a result (whether you like the result or not is another matter) is usually some kind of playoff or binary system. In political parties, there is no debate that cannot occur in each of the two main parties (if they work at least reasonably effectively - yes questionable I know). The point is, any third party is necessarily going to replicate all the debates of the two mains, and by natural extension, will add to the inefficieny of the political discourse. Far better, and more efficient and effective on several levels, to bring your debate to one or both of mains and insist on a hearing.

J. M. Branum said:

"Political parties, like computers, marriage and football, work best in a binary syste"

This viewpoint is based on the falacy that there areonly two ways to see the world, two ways to look at a problem. Life is far more complex than that. I am not repreented by either the Repubs or Demos, not even remotely close to being reprsented, which is why I'm a Green. I know many Libertarians who feel the same way.

Randy Barnett's point, I think, is that Libertarians (and Greens and Constitionalists) shouldn't think of the two major parties as representing them, but rather as a de facto part of the process through which you must pass in order to win elective office and have the chance to implement your principles.

Dodo David said:

How interesting. Dodo World has a commentary about the Libertarian Party. Great minds think alike.

J. M. Branum said:

"Randy Barnett's point, I think, is that Libertarians (and Greens and Constitionalists) shouldn't think of the two major parties as representing them, but rather as a de facto part of the process through which you must pass in order to win elective office and have the chance to implement your principles."

ok, that logic makes sense.

However, another way of looking at it is that third parties function as idea generators (that will in time be lifted by the major parties). The goal isn't electoral success but rather pushing their ideas to the forefront. (one great example was how that Ross Perot made the budget deficit the biggest concern of the Clinton administration)

Steve Smith said:

I stand by my initial comment, though Michael Bates made the point more clearly than I did. I think politics is ultimately binary in nature, as is any other set of decisions, however complex they may be. The point I was trying to make is that we (as individuals or as cooperative parties) either increase the complexity of an issue (by muddying the deliberative process with additional steps) or we reduce the complexity (by acheiving increased understanding of an issue via our efforts). I would argue that Ross Perot (and his party in '92) muddied the political waters far more through his third party efforts than if he had more creatively and aggressively forced his views on either main party. I know some dispute it, but it is at least very arguable that Ross Perot's muddied water enabled the election of Bill Clinton (which I happen to consider a bad result). Perot could have used his influence and money very effectively inside the main parties, but his ego would not allow it.
Perot says the mains wouldn't let him in, but I say he didn't fight hard enough at that point. He gave up, gave in, and then financed a third party, duplicative effort, destined to fail (and very likely led to an unintended effect).

Blogs, by the way, are still an open question as to whether they will ultimately clarify and enhance understanding (among decision makers, voters, etc) or merely muddy the water and be another factional effect, not unlike a third party. But Blogs have huge momemtum - hopefully the tools will improve for them to collectively increase their influence through consistent devotion to transparency, objective clarity and the goal of increased understanding of the issues by the public - goals the MSM have not only failed to acheive, they have abdicated from.

Respectfully - SWS

Chris said:

It takes all kinds. Some folks want to work within the two major parties. Some folks don't want to have anything to do with the two major parties. Some other folks have followed both of those courses at different times. The fundamental premise of libertarianism is that we all ought to be free to choose our own course so long as we don't harm others. I think that applies here, as well.

As far as Steve Smith's comments go, it should be noted that Perot did use his money and influence within the two-party system for many, many years, and apparently felt that it wasn't all that effective.

Michael A. Clem said:

You know, Steve might be on to something. Perhaps we should only have two car companies, too. Ford and GM. Chrysler is just muddying the waters for the car-buying public, as is all those foreign automakers. Two competing public school systems should exist, too, because three would be too confusing, and one is, well, just monolithic. Maybe one could be the American Educational System and the other could be the National Educational System.
Two phone companies, two electric utilities, two television stations, two radio stations, etc. I'm sure we could apply this binary system to just about everything in life, eh?

Steve Smith said:

The main question raised here is about how Libertarians (or any group for that matter) can best influence the political process with their ideas which ultimately means getting their ideas reviewed, accepted and then translated to elections or legislation. I think the American two-party system is a kind of "standard" that produces results (as is a playoff system, or a binary system). I also think our two-party system deserves more credit and appreciation than it ususally gets (even as I would challenge party leaders to be more transparent generally and more inclusive at the grass roots level).

Our two-party political system, though imperfect, has been an effective "standard" for translating and streamlining a wide range of political ideas into action (electing candidates, enacting legislation, etc). It is not about whether people should participate in third parties or not - they are certainly free to do so. It is NOT comparable to suggesting that our free market should be reduced to binary competition (i.e. ony two automakers). It IS about making sure that the best ideas, get the best hearing, srutiny and review possible AND that the system does not get bogged down in factional interests, or provincialism.

If you invent a new, cost-saving light bulb, it behooves you to use the "standard" screw-in thread if you want consumers to first consider and then begin using your product. You might stubbornly insist, even for some good reasons, that your product must use a different thread system, but this will add considerable barriers to the acceptance, and success, of your product.

Libertarians (or any other political grouping) limit their influence and their contribution when they stubbornly insist on avoiding, ignoring or denying this two party standard.

Michael Clem said:

In the past, third party ideas were absorbed into the major political parties, but the last time that really happened was in the early part of the 20th century, with the Socialist Party.
Since then, the major parties have been increasingly insulated against third party politics and third party ideas. A genuinely useful standard is created when it is willingly adopted, not when it is forced upon people.

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