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Harder Than What?

Will Baude suggests that libertarians ought to try "fighting much, much, harder in the next primaries" for the Republican presidential nomination. The question then becomes -- harder than what? It's hard to see how anyone could have beaten George W. Bush in the 2004 primaries, but it's actually quite unusual for an incumbent whose numbers were as bad as Bush's to not at least face some token primary opposition (see, Buchanan '92, Kennedy '80, McCarthy '68). It was plenty clear with plenty of time to register for the New Hampshire primary that Bush was not only un-libertarian in the typical Republican manner of supporting repressive regulation of sexual behavior and the imposition of theocratic values on broad areas of social policy, but also that he had no interest whatsoever in restraining public expenditures. That's leaving foreign policy issues aside. And libertarians didn't fight at all. In 2000 there was an open, semi-competititve primary process and, again, libertarians didn't fight at all, instead the main choice was between Bush's Christian Authoritarianism and McCain's National Greatness Authoritarianism.

I tend to think McCain would have run a less bizarrely inept policy process, but from an ideological point of view he's probably the least libertarian prominent figure in American politics. Under the circumstances, it's no wonder the GOP feels free to take the libertarian vote for granted -- it doesn't appear to exist. This may be because libertarians are, in fact, only a miniscule proportion of the population who just happen to be disproportionately represented in the Beltway policy community and the academy. Alternatively, it may be because the libertarian love of the cynical, anti-political pose prevents them from engaging in any sort of constructive political action. I continue to think that the best way for libertarians to advance the small-government cause over the long haul would be to try and convince the GOP leadership that the "miniscule proportion" theory is wrong by voting for Michael Badnarik. Thus, much as I would welcome a Stuart Benjamin vote for John Kerry, I think libertarians should pull the lever for the LP, the well-known problems with the LP and Barnarik notwithstanding. If Bush loses to Kerry and the LP gets a historically large share of the vote (not a hard hurdle to clear) then the GOP will hear the message that they need to pay more attention to the small government vote. If Bush loses to Kerry and the LP gets its typically tiny share of the vote then the GOP will hear the message that it needs to try and coopt some Democratic issues (think -- pharmaceutical price controls and backing away from social security privatization) and will likely become even less libertarian. If Bush wins, the GOP will just steam on ahead as deficits and body bags pile up.

October 18, 2004 | Permalink

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Comments

Interesting, but look at this in reverse, using Nader at the LP candidate and 2000. Nader did take the election away from Gore, yet I don't think the Democratic Party did anything to try to bring these voters into the fold. Now, for most of these voters, they didn't have to, becuase Bush it so terrible.

But I think if the LP candidate did turn the election to Kerry, would this be a wakeup call for the GOP? Maybe, maybe not. I think most likely no.

Posted by: Goldberg | Oct 18, 2004 7:16:45 PM

Is this tongue-in-cheek? It sounds the mirror image of the usual flawed argument for Nader. (If that was the idea and I'm letting the cat out of the bag, just pretend I never mentioned it.)

Posted by: Mark Barton | Oct 18, 2004 7:20:47 PM

It's not so much a cynical, anti-political pose, as it is a rational understanding that there aren't enough of us to matter, and that make our lives better by expending our efforts on something other than politics.

We had our shot at it, and the public didn't want to be free. You can't force people to throw off their chains, after all.

Posted by: Brett Bellmore | Oct 18, 2004 7:25:00 PM

They're not going to seek out Libertarians; appealing to us means turning off way too many other voters - especially right now, when the failings of our "capitalist" society have hit the forefront.

Posted by: Barrett Brown | Oct 18, 2004 7:29:01 PM

Um, Matt, there was no incumbent running for reelection in 1968. HHH was LBJ's VP.

I suppose you could claim that HHH, as VP, was incumbent-esque, but then you should probably add Bill Bradley 2000 to the list.

Posted by: J | Oct 18, 2004 7:43:38 PM

Talked me into it, Badnarik it is. In Texas I would only be voting for Kerry out of spite, anyway.

Libertarians I believe can make some difference on a local level, councils and school boards.

Nixon had no opposition in 1972. After (I forget the order of things) but wage-price controls, gold standard, EPA, OSHA, busing, arms control, etc. As far as I am concerned, the Republicans are still that party. They really can't control their authoritarian dark-side.

Posted by: bob mcmanus | Oct 18, 2004 7:47:02 PM

"Libertarian" is code for well-to-do, well-educated whites who have no need for government services, for whom the "libertarianness" of a given administration is measured by the box in the lower-right hand of their 1040 form (if you think about it, this is the largest way in which government impacts the life of a "libertarian"). "Libertarians" are Republicans who like to smoke pot, look at pornography, don't live in high-crime neighborhoods, and run in social circles where being homophobic is unacceptable (hat tip: BOP). Absent spending cuts, Bush's tax cuts are just tax shifts, so he "libertarians" are not getting what they want as far as pocketbook issues, and they've got the Religious Right running large portions of domestic policy to boot.

Discuss.

MY: How, exactly was McCainism authoritarian? I don't know what McCains proposals were on crime, abortion, drugs, etc. I'd love to hear examples; I just don't know where to find them. I suppose CFR, plus maybe going after Big Tobacco, is authoritarian. But hey, the man opposed the ethanol bribes ... I mean ... subsidies ... and went and told Iowans that.
That's got to earn you a few points with libertarians, right?

Posted by: niq | Oct 18, 2004 7:52:24 PM

J: LBJ was originally going to just accept the party's nomination, but someone (McCarthy? Not Joe, the other one) fared so well in the NH primary that he decided to give it up.

Posted by: niq | Oct 18, 2004 7:53:52 PM

J, I think Matt's citation of 1968 is accurate, since LBJ did actually win the New Hampshire primary in 1958, but Eugene McCarthy's strong second-place finish was a big factor in Johnson's March withdrawal of his candidacy.

Posted by: Anthony | Oct 18, 2004 7:55:51 PM

Of course, 1958 was a typo in my last post.

I should also mention my interpretation of American politics, that the major parties come about as a result of coalitions being formed before the election rather than after the election as in a parliamentary system.

A third-party effort as a form of punishment is really the wrong way to go about reforming a major party. Staying home is a better form of protest than voting third-party.

The third-party option is for people who want to blow up the political system, not just shift it. Really, you should only go that route if you feel you absolutely can never have a home in one of the major party coalitions or if you want to completely destroy the one closest to you.

Posted by: Anthony | Oct 18, 2004 8:06:53 PM

I stand corrected--those hippies who 'came clean for Gene' McCarthy & helped him finish strong in NH did seemingly convince LBJ to stand aside.

Link here

Posted by: J | Oct 18, 2004 8:10:30 PM

For the record, it wasn't just that McCarthy got an astonishing 42% of the vote in NH for an avowed antiwar candidate, it was that there was no reason for lbj to think that things were going to get better for him in the primaries, and RFK, who had resisted earlier entreaties (from the likes of gene mccarthy!) to enter the race was getting ready to come in (or maybe he had by the time lbj withrdrew; slightly hazy memory on that one).

i'm not much for parallel histories, but i've always believed that bobby would have: a.) beaten humphrey; b.) beaten nixon.

what a different world we'd have today....

Posted by: howard | Oct 18, 2004 8:23:48 PM

Former Reagan official endorses Michael Badnarik

“To vote for either the Republican or Democratic presidential candidates in 2004 is not only a vote to maintain the status quo, but is also a vote for ever greater levels of intrusion by the government in your personal and professional lives.

If, on the other hand, enough people vote for Badnarik, then a process will be set in motion whereby the two major parties will have to take notice. If less government and more freedom is what you want, then the Libertarian Party is the mechanism to get you there. There is no other choice.”

more

Posted by: VoteBadnarik | Oct 18, 2004 8:25:39 PM

fight club, homos, c*cksucker and me.
up and down see george bush on me.
dick cheney and dick army buck each other off
barbara bush looses her vagina on a walking trip
in madrid.

jack e. jett
tv man whore

Posted by: jack e. jett | Oct 18, 2004 8:34:38 PM

but it's actually quite unusual for an incumbent whose numbers were as bad as Bush's to not at least face some token primary opposition


HUH???

The last Gallup poll before the NH primary had Bush's job approval at 53% favorable, 44% unfavorable. At the same point in 1992, GHWB already had negative favorability ratings.

Matthew should, you know, check the facts before he posts like this.

Posted by: Al | Oct 18, 2004 8:42:26 PM

>The last Gallup poll

There's your problem.

http://www.zogby.com/news/ReadNews.dbm?ID=786

Posted by: David | Oct 18, 2004 8:58:45 PM

A couple of people have said that this is parallel to the 2000 arguments for Nader. The difference, I think, is that Nader voters were wrong (very fucking wrong) to believe that Gore would be no better than Bush. In this election, it's not the case that Bush would be slightly better than Kerry on libertarian terms, as it was with Gore over Bush on liberal terms. It's not just that Bush is insufficiently libertarian; he's probably even less libertarian than Kerry would be. Bush pulls ahead with torture and memos declaring that the president can set aside the law, not to mention the war of choice. Naderites argued that Gore was the same as Bush on a macro level but at least accepted that Gore had minor improvements; they just thought they weren't significant. Bush doesn't even have those minor improvements over Kerry on libertarian terms.

Posted by: EH | Oct 18, 2004 9:04:20 PM

Woe is me, what am I to do? Being the very model of modern major moderate, I still am undecided. Which is the party of fiscal conservatism? Which is the party of social liberalism? Are these two ideas contradictory?

The Republicans could talk a good game when the Democrats controlled Congress, but once they gained control the temptation to buy votes became too great and spending has soared past revenue. The Democrats are no better. They gripe about the national debt, but in the same breathe complain that not enough was spent on programs like No Child Left Behind or the Medicare prescription drug plan. Is there a party of small government? If there is, it must be the Libertarian Party.

The Democrats used to be the party of social liberalism, Lord knows that the Republicans are the party of repression and hate. But I would have expected at least one Democrat senator to stand up and sponsor the CBC in their efforts after the 2000 election. The Democrats are increasingly becoming anti-labor free traders, as well. They seem perfectly willing to sell our freedom to corporate America. Is anyone willing to stand up to the cubicle-slave traders in both parties and fight for the rights of the economically repressed? I see only Ralph Nader addressing these concerns.

As the Republicans steal Democrat issues and the Democrats steal Republican issues it becomes harder and harder to tell these two parties apart. They are united in their love of power and neither seems concerned about what is best for the country. Maybe I'll waste my vote. Maybe I won't vote at all. Maybe I'll pretend the the other major party represents change. I haven't decided yet.

Posted by: Just Karl | Oct 18, 2004 9:12:09 PM

"How, exactly was McCainism authoritarian?"

There's that whole campaign censorship thing McCain's got going, for one thing. We libertarians take our First amendment seriously. Of course, we take the ENTIRE Bill of Rights seriously; Too bad the ACLU treats it like a Chinese menu, and orders ala carte.

Oh, and try www.issues2000.org Even if I don't like how they explain the issues, they're pretty good about telling you where a candidate stands.

Posted by: Brett Bellmore | Oct 18, 2004 9:21:27 PM

There's that whole campaign censorship thing McCain's got going, for one thing. We libertarians take our First amendment seriously.

Well, there's 'campaign censorship' and 'get the money out of politics'. I'm not sure which is more important to him. Clearly, he would prefer that politicans be able to have the loudest message microphone during an election. But would he prefer solving that through public funding, or clamping down on advertising? I don't know.

The trouble with issues2000.org is that it's not clear what the candidates emphasized during the course of their campaign.

I've got McCain being "authoritarian" on drugs, where he wants alchohol to be treaded as part of the WoD and wants to regulate medicinal methadone. I've got a line-item veto, balanced budget amendment, and a flip-flop on term limits. He's pro-gun control. Not sure what he wanted from Kosovo, other than to criticize it. Not really "authoritarian", though it's not clear what he wants from foreign policy.

Posted by: niq | Oct 18, 2004 9:42:18 PM

I don't see the point of recommending that libertarian-minded Republicans vote Libertarian to help change the Republican party in their direction. If Bush wins it won't matter. If Bush loses, then there will be a big fight in the Republican party and they will have an opportunity to gain more leverage. I don't seey why the numbers in the Libertarian column will mean very much in that fight one way or the other.

The bottom line is these people should do what's right for the country and vote for Kerry. And yes, that will be good for the Republican party too, in lots of ways.

Posted by: larry birnbaum | Oct 18, 2004 9:52:07 PM

Alternatively, it may be because the libertarian love of the cynical, anti-political pose prevents them from engaging in any sort of constructive political action.

One of the more insightful sentences ever penned.

Posted by: Kimmitt | Oct 18, 2004 10:04:36 PM

As near as I can tell, "libatarians" only actually care about lowering/eliminating taxes. Any desire for social liberty is theoretic at best, perhaps having some bearing once the "immoral" tax system is smashed. Thus, as long as the Republicans keep lowering taxes while in office, they'll keep the libalarian vote.

Really, what other "libertarian" reason was there ever to support the Republicans, unless freedom of conscience means less to you than freedom from income tax?

Posted by: Nick Simmonds | Oct 18, 2004 10:12:29 PM

Libertarian" is code for well-to-do, well-educated whites who have no need for government services, for whom the "libertarianness" of a given administration is measured by the box in the lower-right hand of their 1040 form (if you think about it, this is the largest way in which government impacts the life of a "libertarian"). "Libertarians" are Republicans who like to smoke pot, look at pornography,Or as I saw on another blog: "Libertarians are conservatives who want to sleep with liberal women".Cranky

Posted by: Cranky Observer | Oct 18, 2004 10:34:26 PM

The last Gallup poll before the NH primary had Bush's job approval at 53% favorable, 44% unfavorable. At the same point in 1992, GHWB already had negative favorability ratings

True, but Bush had approval ratings belo 50% in October and November. Clearly, Bush was sucking up an enormous fraction of Republican money, but you would think there might be token opposition. But that leads to the next question:

Who would run?

You can't run just by being a defecit hawk, because we're at "war time". You would need to have foreign policy credibility, which limits you to members of the Armed Services Committees or Intelligence Committees or Foreign Relations Committees, or some retired Republican with foreign policy cred. However, it must be someone with very little in the way of serious Presidential ambitions, since he or she would most likely lose and then be an outcast in the party. Here's my short list:

Dick Lugar
Colin Powell
William Cohen
Sam Nunn, switching parties (hey, we're playing with alternate futures; I can have a little fun, right?)

The only other name I can come up with is Chuck Hagel, but he clearly wants to be President some day, so he didn't want to blow his chance now.

Sheesh, 4-4 in the 14th inning. This is insane.

Nick Simmonds: gun control is the other reason, and probably the second most important reason to people who are libertarians. And if you take the position that abortion and gay rights are smaller issues, and that all the social stuff is all a shell game anyway, there's nothing wrong with Libertarians voting Republican.

Posted by: niq | Oct 18, 2004 10:47:40 PM

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