Saturday, October 06, 2007

It's Not Just About "Getting Votes"

My "From the Editor" column, which appears in the October 2007 issue of California Freedom:

Although I've been following the LP for thirty years, it's only in the last ten that I've heard the refrain: "The LP is a political party. It's not a social club or a debating society. It's about getting votes."

Those who say this usually begin by sniping at the LP's lack of electoral success. Then they invite everyone to be part of their solution to fix things--or get out of the way!

Unfortunately, there's no agreed upon solution. Two self-styled experts have chided me over the years for not knowing how to "get votes" even as they feud with each other. One in particular wins fewer votes every time he runs, yet this hasn't stopped him from extolling his vote-getting expertise on blogs and listservs.

However, I'd rather advance liberty than "get votes." And to do so, the LP must also promote education and stay true to principle.

If we can attain liberty by winning elections, fine. But why not also advance liberty by other means, if possible? Some would reply, "Because the LP is not a think tank, a social club, or a debating society." I disagree. The LP is a tool, to be utilized however best fits our needs.

Yes, we're a political party. A third party. A different animal from a major party. Different strengths and weaknesses. A cat who fights among lions because "being feline is about winning the 'lion's share' of the carcass" will lose. But this doesn't mean that a cat can't "get food" by other means.

A third party's primary strength is its freedom to speak truth to power. Liberated of any chance of winning most elections, our candidates have the luxury of saying things that people need to hear. It's nice to have libertarian think tanks and artists doing so as well, but political campaigns can educate people in ways that think tanks cannot. We should not ignore using elections as teaching tools.

The Libertarian Perspective, a series of weekly op-eds that the LPC syndicates to the media, is a mostly educational effort. Can anyone say that we should stop this effective program because "we're a political party, not a think tank"? (Kudos to Aaron Starr and Richard Newell for establishing The Libertarian Perspective.)

The various socialist parties did much educating in the 19th and early 20th centuries. They lost many elections, but won many hearts. In time, both major parties promoted socialism due to popular demand. Likewise, the Prohibition Party won few Congressional seats, but helped change people's thinking so that the 18th Amendment became reality. And the Reform Party won enough votes in the 1990s to compel the major parties to address deficit spending (however briefly).

That's how it's worked in America. Third parties rarely attain power, because once their ideas gain popularity, the major parties steal their agendas. And a major party that offers X appeals more to voters than a third party offering X, because a major party has the power to effectuate X.

It may be our destiny to advance liberty by pressuring the major parties into passing our agenda. Fine with me. I don't care what letter a politico has before his name so long as he advances liberty.

Like it or not, we're street fighters, not backroom insiders. We are the vanguard of liberty. The Anti-Bolsheviks. We must fight (peacefully) for a libertarian revolution on all fronts, not just on the ballot. In letters to the editor, radio and TV call-ins, speaking engagements, and protest marches. To paraphrase Tom Joad: "Wherever there's a rally against victimless crime laws, we'll be there."

If I'm wrong, no problem. The activism of LP Educationists and Electoralists (those who emphasize vote-getting) do not obstruct one another. Both groups want to advance liberty. Both need votes to do so (either to elect Libertarians, or to pressure Demopublicans into passing our agenda). And both require an educated public to win those votes.

Each of you is free to decide whether to emphasize campaign work or educational efforts. We need both.

What we don't need are people who would sacrifice principle in order to "get votes." We must not drop unpopular stances, or shun unpopular victims of the state, for fear of "losing votes." I'd rather we lose elections than lose our integrity. I've no sympathy for those who, because they "want to see some liberty in my own lifetime," would sacrifice an unpopular person's liberty for their own.

It's easy and tempting to play to the mob. But as a party of reason, we've set higher standards for ourselves. This requires educating and elevating voters to our level, rather than descending to the level of Demopublicans.

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