James Leroy Wilson's blog

Monday, September 22, 2008

A New Undecided

Last February, I was among the earliest to publicly call for Bob Barr to run for President as a Libertarian. And I quickly put up an image link to his campaign. My reasoning was:

1. Ron Paul was not seeking a third-party or independent bid.
2. Bob Barr is experienced and relatively well-known, and therefore more likely to get lots of votes.
3. McCain must not be elected under any circumstances, and I didn't want the story of the election to be that Clinton or Obama won, but that anti-war, pro-civil liberties libertarians and conservatives 'defected" from the Republican Party to Barr and cost McCain the election. For me, this election is a "Hitler" moment, which is not to say that McCain is as bad as Hitler, but that McCain is a dangerous madmen who seems hell-bent on more unnecessary wars. I don't want future generations to look back at us and say, "How did he get elected? Why didn't you stop him?"

That said, I also was aware that Barr's nomination may be bad for the Libertarian Party long-term. But I was assured that Barr had come around and was as libertarian as Ron Paul, Aaron Russo, and Michael Badnarik. In any case, making sure McCain didn't win was, and is, my top priority. I know there would be lots of conservatives and free-market types who would never vote for the Democrat, and I thought if he played his cards right Barr could win their votes and become the heir apparent to Paul's movement.

It would be risky, but I thought Barr could be the one who could cost McCain the election and either provoke a small-government resurgence in the Republican Party or a stronger small-government third-party movement.

It hasn't worked out that way. Barr snubbed an event hosted by Paul to support third parties, and shortly after that I removed the image link to his campaign from my sidebar. And now Paul announced he is supporting Constitution Party candidate Chuck Baldwin. Is the upcoming movie How to Lose Friends and Alientate People a bio-pic about Barr?

I still may vote for Barr. What I would like to see is a debate between him and Baldwin, so I can figure out who I really agree with more on what I believe are the most important issues.

I believe if all nation-states in the world were abolished, we'd be a lot better off. But that's kind of saying that if I could fly like Superman, I'd be a lot better off. How is either statement relevant to the real world? Unless the spiritual nature of mankind is transformed, we will have States, and in this world I'd like the laws within my own country to be as libertarian as possible, even if that means being over-zealous in protecting that country from swarms of economic refugees or from imported, shoddy products made by slave labor. Even if that means recognizing that completely free movement across borders and free trade will not mean greater liberty, but rather an oppressive North American Union bureaucracy.

And even if it means taking the Tenth Amendment seriously, and interpreting the Constitution based on what it says, not on what we want it to mean.

I may disagree with Baldwin on several issues, but am willing to compromise on trade and immigration, and take a federalist approach on morals laws, which, as I understand, is generally the Constitution Party's approach. And he seems to be good on war and foreign policy, great on the Federal Reserve, spending cuts, and tax cuts, and great on self-defense and the separation of school and state, great in opposing the federal police state , and not bad, compared to most politicians, on Internet regulation and the War on Drugs.

And all this makes me wonder again if, in the Internet Age, the time for a "Libertarian Party" has passed.

A "party of principle" would have defended Michael Vick, as did Ilana Mercer and I. Where was the press release? A "party of principle" would have come out against censorship of child pornography, as did Sean Gabb of Britain's (non-partisan) Libertarian Alliance. Instead, it tried to throw one of its Presidential candidates under the bus for holding the libertarian position on the issue.

The problem is, a political party needs to explain how it will govern; in its pure form the Libertarian Party explains how it won't govern. And then it wonders why it doesn't win very many votes!

There are other means - blogs, think tanks, activist organizations - to persuade the public about the benefits of small government or no government. But with the Libertarian Party, it's damned if you do, damned if you don't. A candidate who's "too pure" won't win votes; a candidate like Barr who compromises on the message to win votes will, for that reason, be a poor spokesperson for libertarian values - and alienate the already-small libertarian "base" in the process.

It's no wonder that Paul's campaign, whose message was based more on the Constitution rather than libertarian philosophy, was more effective than any Libertarian Presidential candidacy has been. More people can at least relate to the Constitution: it's a national symbol. The libertarian philosophy, on the other hand, is a philosophy, and most people aren't all that philosophical. The reason I supported Paul is that I was in fundamental agreement; if we just followed the Constitution, we'd have more libertarian policies on the essential national issues, without having to get sidetracked by issues like animal cruelty or sex.

Libertarian education and persuasion is essential, including advocating the unpopular position. But that is the very reason why it should be divorced from partisan political activism. It should inspire activism, but shouldn't be associated with it. Instead, it should inspire libertarians to build coalitions with others on an issue-by-issue basis. Let's say you believe income taxes should be eliminated because they're "bad for the economy" and I want them eliminated as a matter of moral principle. Let's also say that you believe Michael Vick should be in prison, and I believe he should be set free. Fine. Let's work together on eliminating income taxes. Because I know that if I run for office on a platform of eliminating income taxes AND pardoning Michael Vick, you'll never vote for me.

All that said, I don't regret my initial support for Barr. The problem is that it was based on hopes, not facts. I still want McCain to lose on account of antiwar libertarians and the antiwar, pro-civil liberties Right. But at this point neither Barr nor Baldwin (or anyone else, for that matter), has my vote; they will have to persuade me, to earn it.

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