Libertarians – Join or Die
The libertarian movement is too decentralized, and libertarians themselves too ornery, for all of us to choose one path. But if we let a hundred flowers bloom, some of those blossoms may well bring us closer to liberty.
One of the things I’ve always despised about being a libertarian is how purity-test-y other libertarians are. Libertarians were ripping each other to shreds over minor political differences before that was even a thing. Bradford’s hundred blooming flowers are sadly all too often trod upon – in the name of liberty.
I don’t think a lot of people on OT realize how big into libertarianism I actually am. My politics are a bit confusing to people, because I’m willing to entertain lots of different manifestations of government, at least hypothetically speaking. But in an ideal world, I believe in a type of libertarianism just this side of anarchy. I believe in a minuscule federal government, barely larger state and local governments, and I believe lots of private enterprises would quickly evolve to fill the various niches that corrupt and inept government agencies fill now.
I’m so libertarian my husband – we’re a package deal, like Hillary and Bill, even though we drive each other crazy sometimes, like Hillary and Bill – ran for Congress as a Libertarian in 2000 with me as his campaign manager and got almost 5% of the vote, which is a pretty big deal for a Libertarian. The following election, 2002, our dear friend ran for the same seat and DID get 5% of the vote – I like to think in no small part due to the foundations we laid in place. I’m so libertarian I have spent many hours at fairs and gun shows and Tax Day protests talking to people about freedom and limited government. I’m so libertarian I appeared on TV several times as a spokeswoman for the Spokane County Libertarian Party. I’m so libertarian I wrote an LP newsletter that went out to hundreds of people, and I even ran a libertarian supper club for a while. I’m so libertarian the late RW Bradford, he of the quote above, offered me a chance to intern at Liberty Magazine that I passed on, a decision I have regretted for the past 25 years.
My libertarian cred is legit and longstanding. But we don’t live in an ideal world.
Above all else, I’m a realist. And the most real thing about libertarianism is, hardly anybody wants it. I don’t love it that that is the case, but it is what it is, and when people don’t want what you have to offer and refuse to trade with you, you have a choice to make. You can keep pushing it at them, insisting that they take it and give you exactly what you want in return or you’ll walk away with nothing, or you can take a long hard look and ask yourself what else you can trade to get some of what you want instead.
It’s ironic that libertarians, who are all about the free market, don’t seem to understand the marketplace that is politics. You have to EARN what you want, dudes and dudettes. There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch in politics, either.
So what do I want? Well heck, I want me as much liberty as I can get, DUH. If I can’t get 100% liberty (and I can’t, because the vast majority of other people don’t want 100% liberty) I’ll settle for 70% or 50% or even 20% if that’s all the liberty I can scrape together. Then I’ll bide my time, conserve my resources, and forge alliances till I can get 21% liberty, 26% liberty, or maybe even 30%. Because a measly 30% liberty, while lame and disappointing, is still wayyy better than ZERO percent liberty. 30% liberty allows for the gaining of more liberty in the future, while zero percent liberty is game over man, game over.
How does one get more liberty in a world full of statist a-holes, pray tell?? Well, I don’t know either, but what I do know is you won’t get it by being a small, obnoxious group of slavering jerkwagons who demand a fully libertarian society IMMEDIATELY regardless of how many people it hurts in the process. Who in their right mind would sign up for a political party that is calling for dramatic, drastic, draconian changes in public policy that will cause people pain and suffering in the immediate future? Even if it would be better in the long term, even if future generations would live like royals in a libertarian utopia (course, just like all utopias, libertarian utopia does not actually exist) as Alexandra Ocasio Cortez’ good buddy Milton Keynes once said, in the long run, we are all dead.
No one in their right mind would sign up for such a thing, unless it was a person who thought they could compete and win in that type of world (which is IMO and the O of most people who operate under commonly accepted moral guidelines rather than Objectivism, a gross and selfish train of thought and why libertarians are widely despised). No one would, and the last time I checked, no one is not enough votes to accomplish any political goals whatsoever.
Hey fellow libertarians, look around. Millions of Americans are about to elect a socialist president. A SOCIALIST PRESIDENT. Between Bernie and Trump, the case for personal liberty is basically going 15 rounds with The Incredible Hulk on one side and One Punch Man on the other. WHAT ARE YOU GOING TO DO ABOUT THAT? (helpful hint, lecturing your fellow libertarians on libertarian purity is not a viable strategy)
If your answer is “retreat to Galt’s Gulch and jack off to my Ayn Rand books” rather than take any actual, tangible, real-world action, well pardon my rudeness, but you’re an idiot, and worse, you’re an idiot who’s going to take the rest of us down with you. Because refusing to compromise, refusing to work in the world that IS instead of the world you fantasize about being so great if-only, means those of us who don’t want either fascism or socialism (which is a real whole lot of us including a lot of folks who eschew the libertarian label) all stay divided and our division will let the bad guys win. Libertarians who refuse to work with centrists, independents, and moderates of both parties to stop extremism, and who tear down the libertarians who do, are the even-more-ridiculous equivalent of all those Democrat presidential candidates (also see: Republicans, 2015/16) hanging on in the primaries right now just hoping and praying that the other guy will be the one to blink while the real enemy gets stronger and stronger.
Join or die, libertarian chums, join or die. ‘Member that?
After my husband and our dear friend lost their Congressional races as they knew they surely would because libertarians can’t actually win, both of them did something that might’ve surprised some of our libertarian cohorts who exist in that magical realm known as Extremely Online – they went into government. That’s right; they became part of the problem. These valiant men, both of them libertarians of exceptional purity, compromised their precious, precious ideals to govern within a system that didn’t always mesh perfectly with the fantasy world they would have created if only this was a game of the Sims. And because they did that, they were actually able to affect the outcome of public policy debates in ways that helped government to run more efficiently, with less corruption, and in some ways – small, perhaps, but real – did their part to actually shrink government and render it more accountable.
In fact I’d wager between the two of them they did a lot more to preserve liberty than most of the Internet warriors droning on about the gold standard, who would never, ever, ever compromise and would probably love to rip everything these two American heroes actually did in the government to shreds for not being libertarian enough. But sometimes all you can do was pick the lesser of two evils. And you may tell yourself that the lesser of two evils is still evil, but surely it’s better than allowing the GREATER of two evils to run amok unopposed.
May I remind you, there is no available option where we suddenly wake up and find ourselves living in a Robert Heinlein novel.
It is my very, very great wish that libertarians would pull their heads out of their asceticism and view big government as a thing that for now, most people are gonna inflict upon us whether we want it or not. Refusing to live in the world we actually have is like choosing to live in a delusion. We can swoon onto our fainting couches and hallucinate about moving to Mars – wouldn’t it be, like, so totally great there or whatever – or we can get up and try to steer this ship as much as we can, even if it’s not a whole terrible amount, in a direction towards government running more efficiently, with less corruption, holding it accountable to the voters instead of special interests (I would mention defending the Constitution in this same breath, but I fear that trusty and brilliant document was eroded long before you and I came along, probably irrevocably). Inasmuch as we can, even if that is not inasverymuchatall, libertarians need to be on the side of governing wisely and well because ALL Americans should be on the side of governing wisely and well. Then when the opportunity comes along to take a stand and shrink government (or more likely, stop it from further expanding) we can take it because we are in a position to take it, and we have earned the authority to take it. But we can’t take that stand if we have no political power, if we have no authority, and we’ll never have any political power or authority unless we work in the system that IS instead of daydreaming about the system we want.
And may I humbly point out that if the vision you, as a self-proclaimed libertarian, have in your mind about working within the system is that first thing you’re gonna do is get all those lazy beeyotches off welfare, you’re a huge part of why people are flocking to Bernie. If you are happy to see trillions of dollars flowing to Halliburton and the Corn Syrup Manufacturers of America and Big Pharma and say nothing yet call yourself “libertarian” because you want to end welfare and make those whiny little pieces of Millennial crap pay back their student loans, again, sorry, but you’re an idiot.
Straight truth: a whole lot of people are ready to burn it all down (and I can’t half-blame them) and toss the Constitution into the paper shredder. The “eat the poor” attitude that emanates from far too many libertarians/conservatives does nothing but push people towards the wildly undulating arms of Bernie Sanders who makes promises he cannot keep but at least he hates the right people. Personally, I am a libertarian BECAUSE it is better for the poor than the Corporate States of America. I could elucidate that fact quite eloquently if only I could get a word in edgewise. But having gobs of other people standing beside me saying “I’m a libertarian because poor people disgust me, how dare you suggest any changes that might make welfare work better because welfare MUST BE the first thing to go even though it’s only a small portion of government spending” kinda drowns me out.
If we want a libertarian world someday — because wake up, Sunshine, it ain’t gonna happen in 2020, there are miles to go before we sleep — we have got to proceed with compassion in our hearts and get rid of the scum-sucking soul-sucking money-sucking fat cats FIRST before we go after the trailer trash, most of whom are good-hearted people just doing their best. We need to go after the fat cats FIRST before we go after the kids who can’t pay the loans they got tricked into taking out by a corporatized public school system that was and is thoroughly corrupt, the purpose of which is to create brain dead drones to clack on computers all day and then buy cheap plastic products all night. This may entail improving social programs instead of just obliterating them without fixing any of America’s other problems, because if you obliterate social programs while still allowing Amazon to pay no income tax and still allowing Goldman Sachs to do whatever it is Goldman Sachs does, you WILL have the Socialist States of America, this I promise.
Making social programs work more efficiently is not an unqualified endorsement of the concept of social programs themselves; it’s simply sound governance based on the system we have instead of the system we imagine. A libertarian can simultaneously believe that it would be better to have no social programs ideally, but also understand that since we DO have them, they should be run well, and for the maximum benefit of the recipients. This is not in any way a hypocritical position to hold, and in fact it is the only pro-liberty position since we’re sitting on a powder keg and now is probably not the time to start playing with the matches of class warfare.
If you prefer (as a dismaying number of libertarians sure seem to) to sit silently by while the government pours money into Monsanto or Uber or biodiesel scams or to build missiles or whatever other wasteful and expensive things the government spends money on thereby sending more cash into the pockets of corrupt and probably-evil fat cats, while reserving your vitriol for the fraction of government spending that goes to human beings instead of multinational corporations, then all you’re doing is driving people to socialism. Because people have the perception, and that perception is spot on, that the government both D and R is in bed with the fat cats. The socialists are right about one thing, and that is that we should value people over profits, and if libertarians fail to see that very real truth, or at the very least read the mood in the room regarding that very real truth, and keep blathering on about the importance of profits instead, that little teensy sliver of liberty we were trying to conserve will drop from 30% to 20% and right on down to nothing.
When a person is bleeding to death from a severed jugular vein, we could absolutely stand around and say “severing jugular veins, I’m against it” or engage in a tedious review of how severed jugular veins were treated throughout history dating back the time of Hippocrates. We could stand around debating all the various ways to put pressure on a wound so we were sure not to take the wrong approach. We could do that. And while we did, the patient would bleed to death before our very eyes. The person who jumps in and puts pressure on a wound to stanch arterial spurt is not a traitorous quisling. They’re someone trying to save a life any way they can. Maybe you might have performed triage differently, maybe you think it would have been better had the accident never happened at all. But the fact is it DID happen and it IS happening. Somebody has to take action. It’s way easier to be the guy standing off at the side taking potshots at the person who is actually doing stuff, than to be the person who is actually doing stuff. And in case you aren’t following my really complicated analogy here, the patient is liberty in America and it’s dying from 1000 cuts before our very eyes and you dare reproach other libertarians for not libertarianing right?? Hey, in case you hadn’t noticed I’m the one covered in blood here! Hand me some freaking towels or get out of my way.
Former Ordinary Times writer Freddie de Boer once criticized his own far left, socialist movement with the observation that people value position in their own movement over seeing their movement succeed, so much so that they’ll protect their position even at the COST of seeing their movement succeed. And boy howdy, as someone who’s been active in the libertarian movement since the 1990s, truer words were never spoken. We all rightfully despise purity tests when the woke administer them, but it cannot be denied that libertarians invented purity tests. The motto of libertarianism may as well be “Well Achtually”. And this is why we lose, you Austrian-economics-swilling boobs, because as much as I love u guys, you refuse to acknowledge how destructive that mentality is for a political movement. Politics is all about forming coalitions and purity tests cannot coexist alongside coalitions. And while I’m sure hoping that by watching the Republicans and Democrats alike shatter along the same fault lines libertarians have forever been tumbling into, maybe y’all will learn something, I kinda doubt it tho.
Well, I want to succeed. I am one of Bill Bradford’s hundred flowers blooming, and I want to see liberty blossom wherever and however it can, even if it is only a sad little dandelion growing free between the cracks of Trumpism and whatever-it-ism that Bernie is peddling. Thus, I will happily take a 30% win over a 100% loss because any win means gaining and maybe even keeping political power. Preserving the sad dandelion of liberty whilst accruing political influence to hopefully scatter to the winds the dandelion seeds of liberty in the future, is a better strategy than screaming f*ck the world and hoarding gold and guns for the day the world falls apart (why does everyone always assume the world will fall apart in the way that benefits them personally??? It won’t, and rooting for the end of the world to come because you think you’re going to survive it is a game of Russian roulette that I would very much prefer not to play, mmkay?)
In order to gain and keep political power, one must work within the system that exists, accumulating goodwill, rising to positions of authority, forging connections and doing what is possible when it is possible, and then sometimes, even if it’s not as often as any of us might like, the opportunity arises to capitalize on that goodwill and wield that power to actually accomplish political goals. Like reducing the size of government, or at least stopping it from getting monstrously, irrevocably bigger, which is what will happen under the socialist presidency of one Bernie Sanders.
Libertarians, either we join, or we die here. Seriously.
Maybe you’d rather die than compromise. That’s ok, I suppose. You could choose to be Mad Online Forever and fail to effect any change whatsoever. If you prefer. But don’t call me a bad libertarian for choosing to live in the real world, since it’s practicality that will preserve the most liberty for the most people in the long term while yours will simply unleash the socialist kraken.
Compromising. It’s what politics are all about.
Or to put it another way, bloom where you’re planted.