Republican Liberty Bogus
by John Berntson, December 19, 2002 (posted)
A few weeks ago, I was informed by a former Libertarian turned Republican that he was going to try to start a Republican Liberty Caucus here in Colorado. More recently, one of our own recent candidates announced that he was joining the RLC. [Editor's note: Please see A Fork in My Path of Political Activism, by Steve Gresh.] Just what is this organization and what does it do?
On the surface, it looks good: an organization dedicated to electing pro-liberty Republicans to office and to getting pro-liberty legislation passed. Many of the proponents of this organization are true believers in liberty and I do not doubt their sincerity. (Other members have much shakier voting records.)
That is the good news. The bad news can be quickly found by using that old Watergate slogan: follow the money. What does the RLC spend its money on?
Does the RLC spend its money on lobbying? No. Any pro-liberty bill must get through Congress on the strength of its sponsors, which probably explains the lack of success these bills have had in getting passed. There just are not enough sponsors.
Is the RLC an educational organization? Don't see any evidence of this either. CATO, Reason, and other groups get the occasional article published, persuading people to liberty, but I have not seen any articles under the RLC byline. Neither do they seem to spend any time educating Republican politicians or members about pro-liberty alternatives to today's problems.
Is the RLC a strategic caucus, determining how to get their legislation passed? Maybe - that is what the name implies. But it would seem that they need to hone their craft. Governments continue to spend more money each year, becoming that much more intrusive, even when the Republicans are in charge.
So just what do they spend their money on, money that many readers of this column have given them?
They run ads. That's all they do. "Come Join the Republican Liberty Caucus!" Where do they run these ads? In Reason Magazine, Liberty Magazine, and other libertarian-themed outlets.
Translation of all this: They are not expending any effort to try to change the Republican Party, they are simply trying to get libertarians to join and vote for the Republican Party, instead of, well, the Libertarian Party or other minor party.
They have no plan and no strategy to get their bills passed, if they even have any bills, nor do they have any way of influencing their own party's leadership. By getting people to agree, in principle, to vote Republican, they are burying the pro-liberty vote where it cannot have any leverage.
Okay, let us look at practical politics for a moment. If RLC members are, by definition, voting Republican, then the only place the RLC can have any influence is in Republican primaries. Well, first off, as we have seen, the party-anointed usually win any primary, but that of course does not mean that they have to. So how many races can the RLC win or influence?
In any rural district, farm or ranch district, the only way a Democrat is going to win is if the Democrat is demonstrably more conservative than the Republican - rare, but it does happen. Any RLC stalwart going up against a conservative Republican is going to lose the primary, short and simple.
In an urban district, if the Republicans did manage to nominate a true conservative or a libertarian, they are only assuring that the candidate will lose in the general election. Urban districts are modern-day liberal and will be represented by the same, regardless of party.
So, that would leave the suburban districts as the only places where the RLC has any chance of winning primaries and, possibly, the seat. But these seats are almost always in play, except places like Colorado Springs and Boulder, where one party has a distinct historical advantage. That means, in most of these races, that the winner is the candidate who can win the moderate swing voters. Since swing voters tend to be pro-big-government, at least in a New Deal sort of way, a pro-liberty candidate is not likely to win in the general election.
Yes, the RLC could win some of these races, but not many. They not only have no chance of winning a majority in any legislature, but they have no chance of winning a majority in their own party. Since, under a two-party system, winning is key, the RLC cannot deliver on its promises, it is nothing more than a sham, a way to convince pro-liberty voters to vote Republican and feel as if they have done something important.
Okay, I know what you are thinking. If pro-liberty Republicans cannot win the battle, then does not the Libertarian Party stand even less chance? The answer here is one I have made before, but I will give you the short version.
Pro-liberty voters have much more influence voting Libertarian than they do Republican, precisely because voting Libertarian can cause Republicans to lose. (We can cause Democrats to lose also, but that is a different tale) By not automatically supporting Republicans, pro-liberty voters can cause Republicans to actively campaign on our issues, to work to get our votes back. If, on the other hand, you reflexively vote Republican, then the GOP has no reason to listen to you or what you want.
This is the fallacy of the Republican Liberty Caucus: by joining their game, you automatically and immediately drown your own voice and your own power. Who do you think politicians spend more time trying to please? Those who will vote for them? Or those who might vote for them?
It is simply another case of trying to reform the major parties from within. That will not happen so long as what the major parties are doing continues to work for them. The only way to truly influence them is to drop out, to deny them the one thing they truly want: your vote.
John K. Berntson