Historical Echo in Libertarian Vote

Monday, November 09, 2020

Over at The American Spectator, Dov Fischer argues plausibly that the Libertarian Party cost Donald Trump his chance at reelection:

But did you vote responsibly? (Image by Element5 Digital, via Unsplash, license.)
Although some who voted Libertarian might otherwise have voted Democrat, while others might have stayed home and not voted if there were no ballot alternative to Trump and Biden, the vast majority of Libertarians would have voted for Trump and Perdue if the idiots of the Libertarian Party had not been on the ballot. Look at Ron Paul and Rand Paul: they both are determined libertarians (hence Rand's very name [sic]), but they affiliate and come down unabashedly as Republicans, not as Democrats. For all the anger among disappointed Trump supporters over the vote count and irregularities, it may emerge that, really, the vote essentially was mostly honestly tabulated.
In part because I strongly disagree with Fischer's contention that the Trump Presidency has been "marked by ... movement towards smaller government" (much less towards proper government), I do not think that the choice of Trump over Biden was black-and-white, particularly out of the context of the admitted aims of the congressional Democrats. (As I wrote before the election, it was the danger of the Democrats ramming through a far-left agenda -- including structural changes to our federal government -- that prompted me to vote, very reluctantly, for Trump.)

Arguendo, let's say it really was as clear a choice as Fischer asserts. What did the Libertarians do wrong in this election? More importantly, what can advocates of liberty -- this emphatically excludes many big-L libertarians -- learn from this election?

The answers to those questions come from history, when the abolitionists were debating the very idea of forming a political party around their cause.

The abolitionist Lydia Maria Child argues against doing this in part:
In Massachusetts, for instance, before the formation of a distinct abolition political party, both parties were afraid of the abolitionists; both wanted their votes; and therefore members of both parties in the legislature were disposed to grant their requests. All, who take note of such things, can remember how the legislature seemed to be abolitionized, as it were, by miracle. "The anti-slavery folks are coming strong this session," said a member to a leading democrat; "they want a hearing on five or six subjects at least." "Give 'em all they ask?" replied the leader; "we can't afford to offend them." When a similar remark was made to a whig leader, the same session, his answer was, "Concede everything; it wont do to throw them into the arms of the democrats." Now [that] there is a third party in Massachusetts, the two great parties have much less motive to please the abolitionists. Last year, the legislature of that State seemed to have gone back on anti-slavery, as fast as it once went forward.
So, yes: Looking at numbers -- and ignoring the pregnant question of whether Trump was his own greatest liability -- Fischer has a point.

But he misses a bigger point: Advocates of liberty who form their own party marginalize themselves by making it clear that their votes won't help anyone who listens to them. The opposite lesson is staring us in the face, too from this very same election: Trump courted and did relatively well among Blacks and Hispanics, whom many Republicans write off and Democrats take for granted. The media has that story somewhat backwards, too. Trump's performance there is noteworthy, but so is the Democrats' discomfort: They might actually have to start trying to listen to and earn the support of individuals who may be rediscovering the power of choice at the ballot box.

America's political parties are more like colaitions of parties in other countries. Conceptualizing things this way allows us to understand that there are at least two ways to marginalize oneself: (1) Form a third party that does not participate in either coalition, as do the Libertarians, and (2) permanently join a coalition, regardless of whether it serves one's best interests, as individuals who bloc-vote on the basis of race or ethnicity do.

-- CAV


Shea Levy said...

While structural issues aren't the only obstacles, I do think this is one issue that could be solved completely with a better voting system. With score or approval voting, for example, the marginalization that comes from voting 3rd party goes away completely.

Gus Van Horn said...

Good point. Thanks for bringing that up.

Jennifer Snow said...

This also leaves open the question of, who do you vote for if *neither* side has made any effort whatsoever to earn your vote, especially since the GOP has made such a flagrant show of not addressing any serious issue of individual rights? If you have an extreme minority viewpoint and demonstrate a willingness to vote for the major parties *even when you're being completely ignored*, why SHOULD they make concessions? Such a large percentage of people in the U.S. can't be bothered to vote (although the turnout this election was impressive) that just not voting is meaningless.

Voting for a third party is at least a way to demonstrate to the major parties that there IS a bloc (however small) that is politically active enough to vote and won't vote major party unless someone responds to them.

Gus Van Horn said...

There is a chicken-and-egg problem here, though: Are the Libertarians being ignored BECAUSE they seem impossible to please?

Jennifer Snow said...

Right. Which is why I think people need to realize that it's still "early days" as far as an ideological pro-liberty movement goes, and voting at this stage doesn't really matter.

What people need to worry about is building ideological support by making moral arguments (like the abolitionists did). Publish. Make STRONG arguments.

Where pro-liberty people keep shooting themselves in the foot is they act like a political movement instead of an ideological one. Build the ideological bloc FIRST.

The communists and collectivists understood this, which is why they focused their attack in schools and universities.

We are not trying to RETURN to an ideologically superior past or prevent the encroachment of an enemy ideology (collectivism). Collectivism is moving in on a vacuum from sheer inertia. We need to act like the radicals we are.

Gus Van Horn said...


Apologies for not catching your last comment much sooner than today in the comment queue!