“Let me now take a more comprehensive view, and warn you in the most solemn manner against the baneful effects of the Spirit of Party…” -George Washington’s Farewell Address
I start with this quote from George Washington because he would be profoundly disappointed in modern American politics. He would see a divided country lacking a clear path to right itself. We chose not to heed his advice and find ourselves in the exact situation he so wisely predicted.
It wasn’t so long ago America was deeply divided over the issues of slavery and state’s rights. The Union’s fate hung in the balance. Americans were at war with each other. What happened was an inability of existing political institutions to effectively deal with the issues at hand. We can argue about whether it was good or bad for liberty, when the North used war to maintain the union, but that isn’t today’s point. The point is to search history for a solution to our dilemmas.
The Civil War was fought over slavery and state sovereignty. Real moral and constitutional fights.
What are WE so divided over? Entitlements, levels of taxation, government intrusiveness, gay marriage, drug decriminalization, and foreign policy.
Seems a bit petty, no?
All of these issues are solvable through the proper amount of give and take. A gay marriage and tax reform bill paired together for example. Easier said than done I acknowledge, but not out of the realm of possibility.
However, these divisions are still great enough to rock our country to it’s core.
What caused this hostile environment? I believe it is the entrenchment of vested interests and long-time commitments within the Republican and Democrat parties.
If all political parties divide and stoke animosity over time, what purpose do they serve?
“The main purpose of political parties is to join people, who hold similar points of view about the government, together. These groups work to participate and influence the government by having members elected to a government position. Even though many people choose to be associated with a certain party, they don’t all share exactly the same beliefs.”
This post…is about the last clause. “They don’t all share EXACTLY the same beliefs.”
How are we going to move forward when the existing political parties are ill equipped to effectively govern?. Their ensconced positions, on nearly every issue, make policy recommendations look like someone waltzing in a straightjacket. They’re encumbered by history, donors, and leaders. Today’s Republican and Democrat parties find themselves in similar positions. Neither of them can stomach the thought of abandoning what catapulted them to dominance.
Former California politician Jesse Unruh once said, “Money is the mother’s milk of politics.” Nothing could be more true. Even a great organization like Freedomworks puts their cash behind socially conservative Republicans instead of the Libertarian candidates whose beliefs are more inline with their own. But I feel we have entered a new political paradigm where passing off inconvenient issues will no longer work. Americans are yearning for a politician to root for. Everyone mistook President Obama as that figure, but he’s turned out to be a disappointment to liberals, moderate Democrats, and crossover Republicans. All of us are searching for that great uniter. Fortune will favor the bold in this new era and Rand Paul’s filibuster was all the evidence one needs.
So if structural problems have rendered both parties utterly incapable of undertaking any sort of meaningful change, how do we deal with this quagmire?
What can history teach us?
In 1854 the Whig party imploded on itself. The Compromise of 1850 created a fissure between pro and anti-slavery Whigs. The final death of the party was the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Bill of 1854. It dissolved the terms of the Missouri Compromise and allowed slave or free status to be determined in the territories by popular sovereignty. Ultimately, the Whigs could no longer function as a party and disintegrated. This led to a group of ex Whigs forming the new Republican party on an anti-slavery foundation.
The party’s fresh platform allowed them to build coalitions with disillusioned Democrats, known as the Free Soilers. The new coalition was by no means in agreement on each issue, but they stood in resolute opposition to slavery and secession. It trumped their differences. By 1856 the Republican’s Presidential candidate, John Fremont, won 11 of the 16 northern states. His campaign slogan was “Free Labor, Free Land, Free Men”. While Fremont didn’t win, the message of freedom had shifted momentum. The election of 1860 was the Republican Party’s grand entrance on the political stage. Republican Presidential nominee, Abraham Lincoln, had won.
What is the lesson in that bit of history and how is it relevant to today?
The Republican and Democrat parties have both proven themselves unsuited for effective governance. They abandon principle at the first taste of power, commit unconscionable crimes against liberty under the guise of protecting Americans, and show a complete disregard for the fiscal sustainability of the United States. However, history shows us that in 6 short years, principled men can cast off the shackles of party affiliation, take a stand, and align interests with former opponents in order to restore principle. Slavery and halting a gradual descent into tyranny, are of equal importance.
I would venture to say the vast majority of today’s Democrats and Republicans are fed up with their party. The growth of the Libertarian party is proof in itself. An alternative has emerged which offers a clear distinction from Democrat and Democrat-lite. A party whose principles mirror the founders commitment to and concern for, liberty. A party that accommodates all lifestyles, abhors foreign entanglements, and lacks the rigidity derived from years of power.
Are we ready for a party that unites Libertarians with disillusioned Republicans and Democrats?
Are there REALLY more things that unite than divide us?
I hope so.
Our leaders and America’s punditry class prevent reason from reaching minds. As a consequence, the existence of effective leadership seems unattainable. Americans as a whole are not so ideologically opposed that solutions remain out of reach. Here, I make the case those solutions reside in our commonalities:
-No Deductions. 70% of Americans favor simplifying the tax code by lowering tax rates and eliminating loopholes and deductions.
-75% of Americans think the top tax rate should be 30% or lower
-54% favored eliminating the “estate tax”
-When asked: “What is the maximum percentage of a person’s income that should go to taxes (all taxes, state, federal, and local)?” The mean percentage for 2009 was 15.6 percent
-64% of voters believe that Americans are overtaxed
-When asked: “Do you prefer a government with fewer services and lower taxes, or more services and higher taxes?” 68% of voters said they prefer a government with fewer services and lower taxes
-A Balanced Budget Amendment to be phased in over 10 years
-74% of Americans Support the Balanced Budget Amendment
-A new study from the Cato Institute estimates that the federal government will spend almost $100 billion on corporate welfare this year
-Allow competitive bidding for Medicare Part D prescription drugs. That would save about $150 billion.
-Social Security Privatization and a Medicare Voucher program for individuals under 45. Keep the current system for those older.
-83% support Medicare reform
-52% support partial privatization of Social Security. Here’s a breakdown by age via Reason’s Poll. It perfectly aligns with a plan of reform for citizens under 45. Keep it as is for those over 45, and partial privatization for those under
-Elimination of dozens of agencies
-$.66 of every dollar collected for welfare goes towards administration costs (Mises Institute Study), meaning only $.34 goes to the recipient
-83% support a work requirement for Welfare
-126 federal assistance programs, 33 housing programs, 21 food programs could be shut down
-Any necessary Medicaid co-pays automatically deducted
-Section 8 housing deducted
-Private charities would fill in other needs. Only $.30 of every dollar collected by private charity goes towards administrative costs. We would more than double the amount of money reaching recipients
-93% of Americans feel we have a moral obligation to leave future generations a planet that isn’t damaged or polluted
-64% favor regulating greenhouse gases to an extent
-The negative externalities of pollution are not being priced into the creation of goods and services, creating a market distortion. Going forward we need a mechanism to account for the cost
-Follow the 7th Generation Principle: Don’t do anything to the environment which will diminish resources and opportunities even so far as 7 generations in the future
-Harsh financial penalties for polluters INCLUDING the US Government. They’re the number one polluter
Ending The War on Drugs:
-82% of Americans think we’re losing the war on drugs
-A $200 drug transaction costs society $100,000 for a three year sentence
-56% of Americans support marijuana legalization
-Since Portugal decriminalized ALL drugs the number of addicts has been cut in half since 1999
Foreign Policy (Protect the homeland and stay out of foreign entanglements):
-57% percent of respondents say it is unconstitutional to order the killing of Americans overseas
-59% believe that the federal government abuses its power when it comes to targeted strikes
-66% Think the federal government spies on its citizens
-61% of voters believe that “the U.S. government should have to get a warrant from a court before wiretapping the conversations U.S. citizens have with people in other countries”
- 64% of Americans support reducing all spending including military
-67% favor ending the Afghan war and bringing troops home within 1 year
-69% of Likely U.S. Voters think the United States should not commit forces overseas unless it is vital to U.S. national security
-59% of likely U.S. Voters believe our political leaders send U.S. soldiers into harm’s way too often
-In fact, a record number of US citizens want to be more isolationist
-64% of American adults believe same-sex marriage will become legal
-58% of Americans feel same-sex marriage is a civil rights issue
-54% of Catholics support same sex-marriage
-70% of Americans support same-sex marriage or civil unions
-Even Republicans are coming around on the issue
-72% of Americans support a pathway to legal residency or citizenship for undocumented workers already in the country
-National School Voucher Program
-67 percent of African Americans and 60 percent of Hispanics support vouchers for low-income families (Source)
-52 percent of African Americans and 54 percent of Hispanics support initiatives to provide private school vouchers to all children in failing public schools (Source)
So what does this mean for the Libertarian Party?
I recognize that compromising on the above issues doesn’t align with a perfect Libertarian state (an oxymoron to some I aware, but bear with me). Yet, public opinion is moving in the direction of Libertarian principles. Is the Libertarian brand the right vehicle to drive Americans toward a reconstruction of liberty?
Even Lincoln understood the importance of a name. A name carries the weight of it’s past. So many connotations. So many prejudices. That’s why he ran under the National Union Party in the election of 1864. His rebranding allowed War Democrats to unite behind him and save face by avoiding the question, “YOU support a Republican?
Can Libertarian messaging break through and pull in enough supporters to create real change? I hope so.
Might it be easier to take control of the Republican Party and rewrite it’s platform? Perhaps.
Should we follow Lincoln’s lead and ride shared sentiments into a uniting theme? Could we revive the “National Union” Party or some modern day equivalent to bring people together while injecting common sense into the political arena? Maybe.
Where would that leave the Libertarian Party?
It’s no secret the Libertarian Party is diverse in ideology. Would the founders of the LP refuse to support such a plan after years of hard work building it to prominence?
Would practical Libertarians align themselves with a strategic gradual plan to increase liberty? What would become of the mutualists, ancaps, and voluntaryists? Would they comprise the remaining members of the LP? Those committed to a stateless society.
Can we build a large enough coalition between pragmatic Libertarians, Tea Party members, former Republicans teetering towards libertarian principles, open minded Democrats, and moderates to upend the status quo? These are the questions we need to answer.
I believe we can.
In fact, organizing support doesn’t have to take place under one name. Maybe all of the supporters will band together and align behind candidates that can drive change. There may come a time when the Libertarian Party has their John Birch moment and distances itself from some of their anarchist members, but that time is a long, long way off. Right now all of these groups need to unite around the principles of liberty in order to “form a more perfect union”.
Chris Spangle wrote it best:
“I welcome anyone that wants to move us away from statism. I hope the “college kids” that John McCain referenced are successful. I hope our American political system in 50 years consists of three parties: A liberal party that fights for equality without government force and for peace, a conservative party that fights as free of a market as we can get, and a libertarian party that fights for all of those things.” (source)
I’m not writing in support of rebranding or renaming. I’m writing in support of alignment. Don’t let perfect become the enemy of the good. Don’t fall trap to immanentizing the eschaton. I only wish to stimulate thought and provide a historical example. It’s not my intent to infuriate you. I want you to question these ideas. Poke holes in them, but whatever you do, entertain these thoughts. Don’t reject them outright or you risk becoming trapped by same tired precepts that plague American politics today. Rejecting ideas on arrival makes you no different than the old guard of the existing parties.
Don’t be like them.
If you’re reading this, you’re not trapped by dogma. You are a critical thinker who welcomes new ideas and diversity of opinion.
YOU have the ability to create change in America.
As a great man once said,
“If there’s something wrong, those who have the ability to take action have the responsibility to take action.”-Thomas Jefferson
The ball is in the court of people committed to Libertarian principles.
The time has come.
PS. A special thanks to my dad, Tom Lenz, for inspiring this post.