Sticking with the Libertarian Party
by Norm Olsen, February 5, 2003 (posted)
[Norm Olsen serves as Campaign Director for the Libertarian Party of Colorado. He is here responding to issues raised in previous articles by Ari Armstrong, Steve Gresh, John Berntson, and John Thrasher. Armstrong replies following Olsen's article.]
The Republican Liberty Caucus (RLC) strategy is certainly one way to skin a cat. The Libertarian Party is yet another. As a Libertarian, I'm all for choice and the particular strategy that's right for anyone is a matter of personal choice. For me, I'm sticking with the Libertarian approach.
To be sure, it is nice to have Ron Paul in the U. S. Congress. It was very nice to have Penn Pfiffner in the Colorado legislature. It no doubt makes every one of us Libertarians extremely proud to have a man like Bill Masters as Sheriff of San Miguel County. While these three individuals represent the basic idea of the RLC strategy, I believe research will show that each of these individuals pretty much did it on their own without much assistance from the RLC. In his recent successful re-election effort, I wonder: did Ron Paul get more money and support from (L)libertarians or the RLC?
My major problem with pursuing the RLC strategy, as outlined by Ari Armstrong, is that the strategy would require a libertarian to pull off a coup. That is, to live a life of deception, a life of false pretenses, and do so for an extended period of time. I'm sorry, but that's an automatic "Absolutely Not!!!" for me. As much as I value individual freedom and liberty, my honor and integrity is not for sale at any price.
Lets say, for discussion sake, I joined the RLC and after carrying water for Republican politicians for several years I actually got elected to something. What good would I be if I had already compromised my principles for the sake of achieving public office? Would I not be just like most other politicians? Would not I have demonstrated that I would be willing to exchange my dignity as a person for the nefarious perks of public office? Would not every lobbyist and political huckster know that I had already sold out once, and so I'd probably do it again? Is this not what we libertarians see as the major vice in government today?
I suggest to the reader that lack of integrity is the major source of the huge problems we libertarians see in government at all levels. Nepotism, junkets to who knows where, junkets with the secretary to where we all know where, log rolling, hard ball politics, selling your vote for campaign cash, renting out the Lincoln Bedroom, calling cards to see the "big cheese", office accounts, slush funds, lobbyist favors, post service influence peddling, breaking into the mistress's house at 1AM, etc. etc. etc. The list is endless and exists because a major percentage of politicians lack a hard core devotion to integrity and honor.
Recent national events demonstrate how this works in the major parties, and how it would affect a libertarian member of the RLC who actually got elected. When Bill Clinton was caught with his pants down (quite literally), every Democrat was expected to go to the mat to protect Bill. All of them did. When George II's Fatherland Security Bill was in trouble, every Republican was expected to toe the line without reservation. All of them did. Failure to adhere means no campaign cash for you. No support for your legislation. No committee assignments for you. Ask Sandy Hume what it's like to be a major party national candidate but run without the financial support of the party. Can anyone serious suggest that Jim Jeffords is an effective legislator now?
The RLC bit may work for some. Those who choose that route will, no doubt, get to hobnob with some of the political celebrities in the state/nation. You might even get invited to an inaugural ball. You might get appointed to some cushy, well paid, bureaucratic position. You might even get nominated and run for office on the major party line. However, your race is likely to be against a shoo-in Democrat. Both major parties are dominated by entrenched interests: the people who have the money, or who are capable of raising it. If you are not anointed by these dominating interests, your campaign will be that of a sacrificial lamb offered up to preserve appearances on the ballot.
Should a libertarian become one of the few anointed, and that libertarian jump ship, woe be unto you. Your service in, let's say, the legislature will be severely compromised. You will be shunned by both major parties as a traitor (unless your defection results in transferring majority party status to the other side ala Jim Jeffords). Your political career will be at an end. You will have spent years of your life living a deception, only to find out that you will need to continue the deception to survive politically. While your original goal was to beat them, you realize that in living the life of political deception, you have now joined them.
As for the Libertarian strategy, there are some glimmers of hope. At a recent campaign strategy meeting, Libertarian candidates (Colorado 2002) discarded many of the old strategies and devised a new strategy which can and will work if implemented with vigor and persistence. I am optimistic as we plan to start at the bottom and work up. It will take much dedicated hard work and then decades of persistence for the strategy to reach fruition. It will be worthwhile, as I know the cause to be just, the process honorable, and I will leave this good earth with my integrity intact. While I may not be able to leave to my children the legacy of individual liberty and freedom I had hoped, I do hope and pray that I am able to leave them a legacy of personal honor, individual dignity, and unquestioned integrity.
Ari Armstrong Replies
I think it's a great sign that members of the Libertarian Party of Colorado are ready to try out new strategies. As a registered Libertarian, obviously I think the LP has potential.
I don't see how Sheriff Masters "represent[s] the basic idea of the RLC strategy." He ran and won as a Libertarian. He is the nation's first Libertarian sheriff and a pillar of the LP on a national scale.
Olsen is mistaken when he suggests the RLC strategy entails deception. Those libertarians who want to try joining the Republican Party should not be deceptive: they should overtly act and run as libertarian Republicans.
Will libertarian Republicans often conflict with Republican leadership? Of course! That's the point. RLC members should not wait until the Republican leadership "appoints" them to run in an election; they should build their own organizations and run where they can win.
A large minority of Republicans already has libertarian leanings. Most Republicans agree with libertarians on a few key issues such as civil arms and tax policy. There's a lot of room for libertarian Republicans to gain respect within that party and win elections.
The Republican machine will not always work against a libertarian Republican. If a libertarian makes it onto the ballot, the leadership would rather have an uppity Republican in the legislature than a Democrat.
The main reason a libertarian might think about joining the RLC is that most people just automatically vote D or R. It's easier to run as a Libertarian, but it's much easier to win as a Republican (or Democrat). Yes, some of the problems Olsen points out are significant. But so are the problems of winning as a third-party candidate.
I'm not going to take sides here. Pick a strategy you think has a good chance of working, and pursue it! I have more respect for a libertarian who works as a Republican (or a Democrat) than for an LP member who does nothing to advance libertarian goals. I also have more respect for active LP members than for sell-out Republicans.