The LP is the Party of Principle
by Joe Johnson, February 5, 2002
I recently read the piece defending Steve Gresh's decision to join the Republican Party. I'd like to share my views on the topic. I have only known Steve for a short time, but in that time, I have become convinced that Steve truly wants what all REAL Libertarians want. I have no doubt in my mind that Steve will work toward a libertarian society by working within the Republican Party, and to this I say that I wish Steve the best of luck. After all, he is going to need it. To say that it will be difficult to stand proudly and defend libertarian principal against overwhelming opposition will be daunting to say the least -- Just ask the only man who has successfully done it -- Ron Paul.
The idea of 'infiltrating' the Republican Party is not a new idea. Dozens, perhaps hundreds of liberty-minded people have attempted it, and only Paul (that I know of) has done so successfully. Penn Pfiffner comes to mind. True, he was not as 'bad as the bunch' while serving in the Colorado legislature; however, one need not look far to see examples of compromise in his voting, which most Libertarians would find appalling -- and indeed would have called him to task had he been an elected Libertarian (see the Stanley trial).
This of course is not to be construed to mean that I do not understand that politics is a game of compromise, and that if Pfiffner wanted to be able to continue to play the game, he had to 'sell-out' on several issues. No doubt he picked his battles and chose to compromise on those he felt unworthy of a fight -- or felt that he could not win. Many would consider this the lesser of two-evils, since not 'playing the game' would have resulted in his being rendered completely impotent within the legislature as his own party shuns him. However, compromising one's principals to 'stay in the game' is something that most of us (Libertarians) cannot accept as a means of advancing a libertarian society at any cost. It's simply a question of how many of your principles can you surrender and retain any at all.
I do understand the opposing arguments, it's just that I disagree with them. In his defense of the 'infiltration method,' John Thrasher argues (as have many before him) that the LP has not had significant advances over the years. To this I point to the fact that it was Libertarians who introduced, and were instrumental in passing, the repeal of the income tax in Alaska. It was the Libertarians who stopped the initiation of an income tax by a REPUBLICAN governor in Tennessee in 2001 (it appears that the statists are also infiltrating the Republican Party).
No Republicans chose to take the Republican governor to task on his flip-flopping on his sworn opposition on the issue after elected, and I believe that no libertarian elected as a Republican would have had the guts to openly oppose the highest elected state official from his party either, because this would have alienated him from his own party, rendering them impotent. After all, you have to stay in the game to keep playing, right? As such, it took the Libertarians who were beholden to no one, to make it happen. Republicans will not expect elected Libertarians to play ball, but they will expect elected Republicans to, regardless of their ideology. And rest assured, the Republican Party can make hell for any Republican who refuses to tow the line.
I will not argue that the LPCO has been -- for the most part -- ineffective in the political scene over the past several years, but that is simply due to the lack of involved membership. Taking what precious few members that we have and throwing them to the lion's den will not change that. In fact, as long as the Republicans falsely believe that we siphon off votes from them, we stand a much better chance of forcing the Republican Party as a whole toward libertarianism than one or two elected libertarian Republicans would. The key is to grow the liberty movement regardless of the party affiliation, not take current Libertarians and make them Republicans, or vise versa.
Again, it is not that I do not understand the opposing view, and I admit that they make strong arguments, but in my never humble opinion, the number of dedicated libertarians that would be required to salvage the Republican Party out of the river Styx would also be able to begin electing Libertarians to office. This is not however to be taken to mean that I begrudge anyone who makes the attempt, such as Steve, it's just that I wish him the strength of a hundred men, because he is going to need it. Always remember, when you dance with the Devil, it's not the Devil that changes, the Devil changes you. Much like religion, the affiliation that you choose is not what matters so much as how you resist selling your soul for the 'greater good', or some 'long term' perspective.
So, in short, I believe that as long as we are all fighting for the same thing, we should all try to work together. Let's put it this way, if Steve chooses to run for office as a Republican, I'll not recruit a candidate to run against him (that is until he begins acting more like a Republican, and less like a libertarian). Nor however, would I actively oppose any Libertarian who chose to run against him.
Ari Armstrong Replies
I do want to point out that Gresh remains a member of the Libertarian Party of Colorado. According to the party's rules, a person can be both a (dues-paying) member of the LPCO and a registered Republican. So it's not as if we're faced with an either-or decision between the LP and the GOP.
Johnson argues a person working within the Republican Party is more likely to compromise his or her principles. Yet this need not be the case. I know many Republicans who stick to their principles even when it rubs the leadership the wrong way. (Unfortunately, their principles aren't consistently libertarian.) It would be even easier for a libertarian Republican to stick to principles -- because libertarian principles have the virtue of being well-supported by ethics, economics, and empirical data.
Also, Rocky Mountain Gun Owners pointed out that several Libertarian candidates in fact supported various gun-control measures. I personally spoke with a Libertarian candidate who supported drug prohibition. So it would seem compromising one's principles is just as easy as a Libertarian -- even when no political victory is on the line. What the Stanley hearing conclusively proved is that we ought not assume an organization will stick to libertarian principles simply because the word "Libertarian" is in its title.
Johnson points to a few state-wide goals the LP has accomplished. However, the libertarians involved could have organized with some other group to accomplish the same ends. LP members have accomplished some goals, but they have not accomplished the goals the LP was created for, at least on the state and national levels.
Johnson argues the Republican Party could punish libertarian Republicans worse than it could punish Libertarians. Of course, this is a hypothetical discussion -- no LP candidate has ever come close to winning a state legislative seat in Colorado. Looking beyond that point, though, there's no reason to think the Republican machine could hurt a Republican worse than a Libertarian. The Libertarian is going to get nothing but opposition from the Republican Party. The worst that can happen to the Republican is that he or she also gets nothing but opposition.
The LP has made some strides. Bill Masters serves as sheriff of San Miguel County, and Bob Dempsey serves as coroner. Two Libertarians continue to serve on the Leadville city council. The LP has run more candidates and earned more press than ever before. Still, electing a Libertarian to state-wide office will be difficult. So will electing a libertarian Republican. I think it's important not to idealize either approach. These are matters of strategy, and, as Johnson recognizes, people can honestly disagree about strategy.