Some of you know my political backstory – I’ve written about it a time or two. In 1994, disgusted by the GOP’s capitulation to Clinton on the 1994 Crime Bill along with George HW Bush’s reversal on taxes, I left the Republican Party and joined the Libertarians.
Over the course of four years, I did what most libertarians do; thought big thoughts about liberty. I also ran for office under the Big “L” banner – and did better than I thought I would.
But it was mostly thinking big thoughts. Libertarians were big on debating principles, and even bigger on deriding those who, by their calculus, didn’t – or at least those whose principles weren’t drawn in as big, stark letters as their own seemed to be, to them and each other.
I left the Big “L” after about four years. I had – and have – principles.
- One of them is “don’t screw up the country, and try to prevent other people from screwing it up too bad”.
- Another? A slight modification of Buckley’s Eleventh Commandment: “Vote for the most acceptable candidate, from a fiscal, security and liberty perspective, that can win.
- One last one? “Perfect is the enemy of good enough”. If I eschew imperfect candidates – say, candidate who champion my principles 51%-85% of the time – then I’m doing my little bit to make sure someone who agrees with me even less, as in “0-15% of the time” (that’s the current, extremist version of the DFL’s track record) is actually running things. Raising taxes. Vacuuming my personal info into “MNCare”. The whole nine yards.
And I figured there was a better chance of doing my part toward that end, and actually having some effect in the great scheme of things, by working within an actual party that had a chance of doing something useful than via endless navel-gazing in the Libertarian echo chamber.
And so I left the Libertarian Party – partly because the party line on foreign policy and national security is (I’ll be charitable) simplistic, but mostly because the Big “L” Party is never, ever, going to have anything to do with passing actual policy into law; the most it can ever hope for is to serve as a spoiler, taking liberty voters’ votes away from the other parties, mostly the GOP.
And in 15 years of varying involvement – from observer to amateur pundit to even-more-amateur activist – the party has come a long way. In 1998, Arne Carlson’s legacy loomed large in the party; today, it’s virtually gone, and good riddance. It’s been largely squeezed out (everywhere but in the media’s consciousness) by an uneasy, sometimes fractious assembly of business conservatives (who may or may not care about social issues or liberty), Tea Partiers (who focus on the “limited government” aspects of “liberty”) and, over the past couple years, “Liberty Republicans”.
These last came to the party in 2012 as an organizational juggernaut that acted about as “libertarian” as a North Korean synchronized dance team – at least in terms of taking control of party functions and sending people to Tampa. The best of them – the ones in CD4 were among ’em – brought with them the pragmatism that led to a couple of really promising campaigns. The worst of them – I’m not naming names – left us a display of nihilistic principles-over-pragmatism that bordered on onanistic.
None quite as dismal, thankfully, as the recent resignation by a group of libertarian Maine Republicans, who resigned in protest over…
Walter Hudson has an excellent piece over at Fightin’ Words on this whole deeply dumb incident. And I think there are lessons for both of the “sides” of the debate in the GOP – especially the “Liberty” clicque’s penchant for walking away from it all when the “establishment” doesn’t carry them up to the front of the room on their shoulders:
The critical failure which informs this move manifests from activists’ perception of the party as a servant which ought to work on their behalf, rather than a vehicle which must be actively steered in a desired direction. If I had a nickel for every time I heard an activist whine about the party not treating them well, as if that were its purpose, I’d be set for life…This common sentiment from libertarian activists completely absolves them of any responsibility for changing the party. Instead, they proceed from the rather absurd notion that Republicans ought to advocate views they do not agree with in order to earn libertarian support. That’s not how politics works.
Or, in many cases, endless prate and gabble about how stupid – racist, homophobic, war-mongering – Republicans are for not folding like a Wal-Mart end table.
And then there’s this line’s first cousin – the “Under Thirty” crowd. The GOP, we’re told, must embrace the Ron Paul Agenda in whole because so many under-thirty conservatives and Republicans are so very libertarian. More on this next week.
Libertarian Republicans need to dispense with the notion that their “individual integrity” is defined by the party’s compliance to a libertarian agenda. Holding the reigns of power in a party office does not mean you “support” every little thing anyone in the party says or does. If resignation remains the default response to any deficiency within the party, it only enhances the victory of those who remain.
Principles – or at least saying you have them, as opposed to having to defend them against a lifetime of real-world experience – are easy. Convincing other people about them is not.
No one has ever “learned their lesson” from an activist resigning in protest. The concept ignores political reality and smacks of a narcissistic valuation of one’s political worth. “Oh, you resigned?! Well then, let me completely realign my entire worldview in order to get you back,” said no party officer or elected official ever.
And the corollary of that truth, as I’ve been saying for years; political parties don’t “learn lessons”. They respond to the will of those who show up.
Which is why I, and my impure mutt’s-breakfast of conservative and libertarian and pragmatic beliefs keep showing up.
Read Walter’s entire article, if you would please.