Tips for Libertarian Activists

Selling the LP

Last updated 1994-07-16 by Tom Isenberg

Here are some answers I give to friends who raise common objections to the LP of the "I like you guys, but..." variety. This is written for Republicans, but can be easily modified for Democrats.

I have started keeping a file of "debate" answers so I don't have to spend time rewriting them. I just cut and paste and modify. It only took me seven years to figure this out, too! <g>

Q. There are some areas of the Libertarian platform that bother me.

A. Nobody agrees with any given platform 100%, but maybe the LP is closer to your principles than the Republicans or Democrats are. I figure that as long as the LP train is going in the right direction (reducing the size/power/cost of government) I'll ride as far as I can with them on those issues that I agree with. At some point, we all get off at different stops.

Q. Isn't voting Libertarian just throwing your vote away?

A. Well, I think we're throwing our votes away if we don't vote for Libertarians. We're only encouraging the other statist parties. We're giving them our sanction by voting for them. A vote for Libertarians, on the other hand, sticks out like a sore thumb. No one knows why someone votes Republican (because their parents are Republicans?) A Libertarian vote says, "Wake up, Republicans. I mean it when we say we want free markets and individual liberty." Besides, Libertarians are winning at the state and local level -- more than any other minor party. And LP numbers are increasing every year.

Perhaps you were thinking of the presidential race? Of course the LP candidate won't win in the foreseeable future, but that's not the point. The point of entering the presidential race is to get out there and spread the message with a high-level campaign. And we get exponentially more coverage each time.

The LP's purpose is two-fold. One is obviously to get people elected, and we're having more success every year. I hope that we will reach "critical mass" at some point and start a snowball effect, probably when we elect our first U.S. Congressman. Until then, the more people vote Libertarian, the more the Republicans and Democrats will have to move in a libertarian direction to re-capture those votes. This has already happened in the Georgia U.S. Senate race where the Republican candidate (Paul Coverdell) promised to enter some Libertarian bills if the Georgia LP promised to withdraw their "spoiler" candidate and endorse him instead. As you may know, this strategy worked well for Norman Thomas' Socialist Party in the 1930s and 1940s. They never got anyone elected to anything besides mayor of Milwaukee, but they quit running candidates in 1956 because the Rs and Ds had adopted all of their platform planks!

Perhaps the LP can have the same effect in the opposite direction. Obviously, we try to pick our battles wisely. It makes no sense to run a Libertarian against a pretty good Republican. Libertarians run against crappy moderate Republicans, where the Democrat is no worse. Believe me, there are more of these races than the former. We don't want to waste our votes, either, and we support good Republicans wherever possible. But where they stink, we'll be there as spoiler candidates (at the least) or run hard campaigns to win (at the best.) Either way, the Republican Party learns a lesson and puts up better, more "libertarian" candidates next time around. For many years, Libertarians have generated some of the best ideas to be adopted by the Republicans: privatization, term limits, school choice, legalized gold ownership, etc.

The other purpose is to serve as an educational "clearinghouse." LP members (candidates, students, etc.) spread the libertarian message via advertisements, campus lectures, talk shows, interviews, op-ed columns or in discussion with friends. Interested people then call up the LP and get an info kit that presents them with a complete, consistent, principled vision and moral defense of limited government (often for the first time in their lives.) They also learn about the wide range of libertarian/conservative organizations, thinktanks, magazines, books, etc. Whether they end up becoming LP members or not doesn't really matter (it's nice, especially if they send $$$ to help out with these activities.) But we're happy if they become better Republicans (or even better Democrats) and help move their parties in a more libertarian direction on those issues that they agree with the LP on, e.g., make the Republicans deliver on their free-market rhetoric and make the Democrats deliver on their individual liberties rhetoric. Did you know that Rep. Dana Rohrbacher (R-CA) was once the chair of the California LP? Several other Republicans (particularly at the state legislature level) were also LP stalwarts before they decided to run as Republicans.

Bottom line: join the LP. If you think their train is going in the right direction (free markets and limited government), ride it as far as you can. At least they're going in the right direction. The Democrats and Republicans are both heading in the wrong direction (socialism and Big Brother), just at different speeds. If you're really in favor of free markets, individual liberty and responsibility, and limited constitutional government (all of which must mean that you're disgusted with the Republicans) call the Libertarian Party for a free information kit: 1-800-353-1776.