Baby Steps or Cold Turkey

Imagine the following scenario...

You are stranded on a desert island, a la the wonderful film Castaway. You are starving, and literally minutes from an agonizing death. Suddenly, two doors appear out of thin air, and you must choose one. If you choose Door A, there is a 75% chance there will be a ration of stale bread, Milk Duds, and lukewarm water behind that door (and a 25% chance of there being nothing). These food items will not satisfy your thirst and hunger, as you will still be very uncomfortable. But it will be enough to keep you alert and avoiding death, and would provide you enough time while you wait for help to arrive. Behind Door B, there is a 15% chance of fresh fruits, vegetables, meat, juice, milk, ice water, and a soft mattress and pillow. Ample supplies to keep you satisfied and strong. Which door do you choose?

I often wonder about the Libertarian Party, the US political organization formed in 1971 whose platform closely matches many of our readers' and contributors' ideals. It's also a party that often has a self-image problem and, sometimes, unsure of what it wants to be: Do they want to maintain a 'purist' platform, or water itself down into a relative moderation, drawing more voters into its fray?*

Libertarians pride themselves on being the Party of Principle, a party consistent in its viewpoints. On the surface, this appears to be supported by Michael Badnarik, the just-announced party candidate for the 2004 presidency. In a sense, one can say Michael is pure in his ideology, as he literally promises to blow up a (vacant) UN building upon being sworn in the Oval Office, indict IRS officials on criminal charges, and declare the Second Amendment as his one "hot button" (Frankly, while I could relate to his position, I could think of hotter buttons to chat about at the office water cooler than selling over-the-counter AK-47s without bothersome background checks).

Badnarik's positions would certainly appeal to those of us with a strong belief in individualism along with the natural suspicion of government. But at the risk of suggesting an option that may be deemed a "sell-out", would a lightened version of the LP platform be a better direction for the party to pursue? Issues about Bush's outspending his predecessors, the various embargos and tariffs that prohibit free trade, red tape on new health care medicines, FCC media censorship, abusive eminent domain, and relieving one's tax burden would seem to grab hold of 'mainstream' hearts and minds more than bravado talk of razing UN buildings and jailing tax guys.

Let's look at two hypothetical candidates:

LP Platform Uno proposes a low tax burden, fiscal responsibility, minimal foreign adventurism, loosening of immigration standards, greater school choice, school vouchers, and legalization of marijuana. Platform Uno gains a much significantly higher number of political offices and influence throughout the country, and even ruptures the very fabric of the GOP's space-time continuum, and forces the GOP to re-think their newfound Socialism Lite policies. This is stale bread and milk duds, but better than dying of starvation under socialism.

LP Platform Dos proposes an abolishment of taxes, wipes out nearly every federal agency acronym, drops the US borders in favor of the unlimited free flow of immigration, and legalization of all drugs under the sun. Platform Dos, while proposing the taste of fresh fruit and tasty meat, is too so-called 'radical and scary' for the masses, is written off (unfairly or not), and doesn't register a blip on the national mindset's radar. Meanwhile, the GOP goes along its merry way to become One with the liberal Democrats, as the last vestibule of individualism has been branded too 'out there'. It may not be radical or 'out there', but this sort of massive abrupt shift won't win many elections in our lifetimes.

Again, at the risk of choosing the sell-out path, is Platform Uno the necessary path to begin the process of 'baby steps' to pure libertarianism? Is "something better than nothing", so to speak? There are certainly politicians who do fit into the Platform Uno, being called, or calling themselves, the rather clich?d social-liberal/fiscal-conservative label. Does the LP become the S-L/F-C based party, or do they stick to their guns (no pun intended), staying true and hard to its unwavering principles?

I know my personal preference may somewhat contradict others' opinions who read and post here and on other blogs, but I tend to lean toward baby steps. I'd prefer to eat the stale bread and Milk Duds in hope that this is the prelude to even better food ahead.

(* - I do also realize that many Libertarians will find this entire essay bunk to begin with, as they do not recognize any political party or participate in voting due to an abhorrence to majority-rule democracy and the governing system as a whole)

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I'm guessing Russo was the

I'm guessing Russo was the "baby steps." Honestly how many people would have taken Russo seriously after he claims that as president he's going to get rid of the federal reserve, and return America to a gold standard. I'd like to see him try and support that kind of statement in a debate with Bush and Kerry. Or perhaps after he announced that he was going to "repeal the patriot act." I presuming he knows that repealing laws is beyond the scope of presidential powers. I'd like to think that the LP learned something after the last presidential election with Harry Browne's promises of a "Big media campaign." Perhaps what the LP needs to take baby steps with is not their principles but with how elaborate and exposed their presidential campaigns are. They have chosen someone who is well informed, and intelligent. He's run a simple, very frugal campaign. He's neither promised big media attention nor tried to get it. Instead Badnarik campaign has strived to reach as many people as they can with the money they have. Badnarik is their "baby steps" candidate. Kudos to them for not selling out their principles for the elusive dream of short-term media attention.

"Imagine the following

"Imagine the following scenario?"

But alas, the doors are just an illusion brought on by over-exposure to the sun, and they disappear every time he reaches for them. Four years later, similar doors appear down the beach. Our Libertarian hero stumbles up to them, weighing his chances...

The time spent by Libertarians on navel-gazing and choosing between various species of politician in the ranges of Goofball to Evil, inclusive, would be better spent on figuring out something to do for *themselves*.

For example: would any given New York City Libertarian gain more individual freedom by dabbling in politics, or by moving to Oregon?

The LP's flaw is that they

The LP's flaw is that they focus exclusively on electoral politics, which is a high-cost, low-yield means of communicating your message when you're a third-party. I'd like to see more LP activism in things like administrative law (which is where I focus my attention) and areas that aren't the focus of popular and media attention, areas that could use some principles to shine a light on government abuse.

Great post. I will be

Great post. I will be linking to you in lieu of writing something dreadfully similar as I had been planning.

One of the reasons I am a small-l libertarian and have never joined up with the big-L crowd is the often alienating methods of their message. Rather then focusing on reasonable steps to limited government and individual liberty, they talk about blowing up / wiping out tactics and the non-starter "gold standard". Rather then having to defend each and every issue championed by the party and candidate, I can pick and choose.

And why is it that LP candidates are unable to avoid nuttery such as:

"Given the opportunity, Michael would like to change one aspect of prison life to increase the safety of the people guarding them. Instead of allowing them to lift weights and exercise several hours per day (making them violent AND powerful), Michael would require them to remain in bed all day for the first month, and twelve hours per day after that. This lack of activity would allow their muscles to atrophy, making them helpless couch potatoes incapable of inflicting very much violence on each other, the guards, or unsuspecting citizens should they manage to escape. Michael also likes the idea of requiring them to submit one book report a week, encouraging them to strengthen their minds instead of their bodies."

Even if you believe this, making it part of your position statement caused people to think you are more than just a bit off....

i?ll take choice number 2.

i?ll take choice number 2. Choice 1 will get you nowhere fast. once you allow marginal types to control the ethics, its over, and watered down republicans and bartering for power is what you get. the system at present is like a junkie, its needs to have an ?epiphany? or its going to die, one or the other.

The LP has obviously had

The LP has obviously had little success at the national level, but they've had a good amount of success (for a third party) at the very local level. Getting elected to Podunk Water Board by itself is not anything to write home about, but it's part of a larger trend of increasign local Libertarian numbers. With this and a few more Ed Thompson-types, they could start to get somewhere.

The local guys don't have to take the hardline positions, because nobody cares what their positions are on the gold standard. It may take a while to break into the system this way, but it's better than nothing.

small steps. the LP's purist

small steps. the LP's purist approach will get us absolutely nowhere and will just lead to bigger and more intrustive statism. the hardcore anti-state approach is a huge turn off to almost everyone (even me in some areas).

"I would announce a special

"I would announce a special one-week session of Congress where all 535 members would be required to sit through a special version of my Constitution class. Once I was convinced that every member of Congress understood my interpretation of their very limited powers, I would insist that they restate their oath of office while being videotaped. Those videos could then be used as future evidence should they ever vote to violate the rights of Americans again."
--Michaerl Badnarik.

I'm a conservative, but I have always respected libertarians. However, the Libertarian Party has lately become a hotbed of kookery (such as the above).

When Libertarians can

When Libertarians can explain why Pepsi tastes like Coke and why that is a good thing they will start getting in touch with reality.

Their complaint that there is not a dimes worth of difference between the parties is true. The Lib's problem is that they have turned a feature of the system into a defect. Thus disconnecting themselves from the system and reality.

Randall, I agree about the


I agree about the success of the party at the local levels. Although I'd like to add that despite his "official" party affiliation to the GOP, I'd almost name Ron Paul - Republican Congressman from Texas - as the highest governmental post occupied by a libertarian. From what I understand, his switch from the Libertarian Party to the Republican Party was to attract and gain access to a larger audience. Fortunately, Paul still votes and vocalizes his opinion as a libertarian, meaning that he simply didn't go lock-step with the GOP partisans once stepping into Washington. Not surprising, considering his involvement with the Republican Liberty Caucus, which is basically a mouthpiece for the GOP libertarian-leaners.

It's additionally noteworthy that Paul has been re-elected to Congress in 1998, 2000, and 2002.

The LP should do whatever

The LP should do whatever will be most effective at advancing its principles. I am with you in doubting that extreme candidates are the most effective choice, and with the other posters who suggest that national political parties may not be the most effective choice either.

I don't know what the best strategy is, but I wish more libertarians would try to find it.

Unfortunately the LP is a political party, and thus subject to public choice issues just like any other party. A focus on local-level politics would reduce the power of the national LP, hence it is unlikely to promote that strategy.

In practice there should be

In practice there should be no difference between a realistic and a Libertarian position. All you need is a fundamental respect for the cleverness of the Founding Fathers, who did not promugate the "Zero Agression Principle" but did come up with a government plan that required super-majorities, and much time to change things.

My argument with the big "L" Libertarians is they can not agree on a small steps on a number of issues.

I would suggest:

1. A 1 percent per year reduction in income tax.
2. A 1 percent reduction per year in federal spending.
3. A militia law that would permit a checkoff that a citizen was available for militia service would carry a 1 percent income tax credit.
4. A law that would double or triple the rate by which registered immigrants could legally work in the US. Registration would occur outside the US, so current illegal immigrants would have incentive to return home to register.

Not perfect today, but a step.

Qwest: You know, there's a

Qwest: You know, there's a saying that relates to your proposition.

"One should not make the perfect the enemy of the good."

Ideological purity that accomplishes nothing is worse than "bartering for power" that never accomplishes anything. Your belief that the system will die without a (libertarian) epiphany is, well, not exactly convincing.

(Then again, I'm more of a Hayekian than a Rothbardian anyway.)

There is no way in Hell

There is no way in Hell Big-L's are ever going to get real support unless something crazy happens. Purists are doomed to repeated failure in the same way the Communist party gets nowhere.

Both paths lead to

Both paths lead to failure.

Platform Dos has obviously failed and will continue to fail. To put it bluntly, The Great Unwashed aren't interested in a radical return to limited government, and no conceivable event would make them so.

Platform Uno will be hijacked by the same power-hungry pols that run the other parties. Reducing the tax burden by one percent a year will turn into "only" increasing it one percent a year. Legalizing marijuana will turn into mandatory drug treatment instead of jail. Following "the perfect is the enemy of the good" will lead us to a truly marginal (in the economic sense) platform, where every proposal is a literal baby-step improvement over the status quo, and the entire affair is run not by principled freedom lovers but by budding tyrants latching on to the Next Big Thing.

The conclusion? We're fucked. The only possibility for the advancement of liberty that I see is if the Democratic party implodes in an orgy of neo-socialist irrelevance, a libertarian/individualist movement could rise to fill the void. But even that would fall prey to politicking as Platform Uno above...

Most Libertarians do not

Most Libertarians do not understand that the other political parties, having no principles by which to guide thoughts about the *perfect* government or ideal society, have no door #2 to choose, and never ever advocate anything other than baby steps (except in situations where they can claim bogus "war" status).

When the LP advocates the "ideal" libertarian government, which is something that would take decades to implement smoothly, I would argue, they isolate themselves from the rest of the population, and put themselves at an *enormous* disadvantage, as they are selling ideas and principles to those who do not generally think in terms of principle and ideas, and thus have no use for them.

It's the difference between standing on the top of some mountain and sayin "Hey come over here!" to a lazy person, vs. standing with them and urging them forward step by step. Most people, who seem these days not to exhibit alot of initiative, will not even understand the posibility of the ideal government, but if instead you offer, lower taxes, reforming social security, less foreign intervention, blah blah blah, then, not only are you being more truthful (Badnarik, even if elected could not make many of the changes he proposes in the time he would have), but you are selling something that people don't have to use mental acrobatics to grasp, and thus they are more likely to evaluate it's validity.
[To be posted in similar form at]

I think Ben is right on the

I think Ben is right on the mark. The LP is doomed to failure and obscurity on the national level so long as it's most prominent politicians like Badnarik choose to focus mainly on libertarian fantasies, instead of the issues many Americans are concerned about here and now.

Libertarians have a lot of allies in the conservative movement, but the LP refuses to see them as a resource. A more simple program of reducing taxes, cutting spending, privitizing Social Security, and abolishing a few federal agencies (like the Dept. of Education and the IRS) would help increase support for the libertarian movement as many conservatives share these goals.

Door #1 all the way - which is why I'm a small 'l' libertarian only.

Actually, I'm still going to

Actually, I'm still going to back Badnarik, after seeing the LP debate on the CSPAN website, he was, as far as I can tell, the best of the three. How he proceeds from here is yet to be seen.

As I've said before, running on the LP ticket for President is basically a thankless task, and until now, Badnarik didn't have the support that a high profile, such as the nomination, will provide. I'd like us all to reserve our judgements until we see what he does on the campaign trail.

I agree with Noah, we're

I agree with Noah, we're fucked. I could not care less about the Libertarian party, its a fruitless waste of time as they will never convince anyone but the pre-converted. I would enjoy watching it(the state) come to an ugly accrimonious end, and seeing all the barnacles fighting over the last of the booty. Unfortunately, even uglier people come to power after such events, not libertarians. so for anyone who thinks they are a libertarian this is as good as its going to get,like a modern version of the fall of the roman empire. its eerily similiar (if you believe Gibbon). just stay as far out of thier way as possible.

^ Self Fulfilling Prophecy ^

^ Self Fulfilling Prophecy ^

One of the reasons we

One of the reasons we (Libertarians and other third party supporters) are screwed is that the Plurality voting method is used for most of our elections. This puts a huge pressure on voters to choose the lesser of two evils, with the result that the minor parties get tiny vote totals that understate the true level of support for those parties and their platforms. People ignore the minor parties because they get such tiny vote totals. Thus, plurality voting promotes and maintains a two-party duopoly.

There are other ways of conducting elections that greatly reduce this effect:

Approval Voting asks voters to "approve" or "disapprove" each individual candidate for an office. Voters may approve more than one candidate, so voters are completely free to approve their favorite candidate, and also hedge their bets by approving the "lesser evil" candidate, and any other candidates they might like as well. Whoever gets the most approval votes wins. Approval Voting is a vast improvement over Plurality, and is trivial to implement with existing voting equipment and procedures. See

Condorcet Voting has voters rank the candidates (1st choice, 2nd choice...), and then uses the rankings to determine who would be the winner of each election if elections were held between each pair of candidates. If there is a candidate who would beat every other candidate in one-on-one contests, that candidate wins. Otherwise, there is a circular tie, and various rules can be applied to break the tie. See

Instant Runoff Voting (IRV) has voters rank the candidates. The ballots are sorted according to first choice votes. If one candidate has a majority of the first-choice votes, that candidate wins. Otherwise, the candidate with the fewest ballots is eliminated, hir ballots are redistributed to the next choice shown on each ballot, and the process repeats until someone gets a majority of the ballots. This method is used in Australia and a few other places, and is backed by the Center for Voting and Democracy, . But beware, although IRV is better than Plurality, when there are three candidates of roughly equal strength (such as in the recent election of the Libertarian presidential candidate) it can sometimes pressure voters to vote a lesser evil ahead of their favorite. This is explained at the site.

I have found both ordinary people and politicians to be surprisingly open to adopting other voting methods. I urge you, Dear Reader, to visit the above web sites, learn about different voting methods, and get active in promoting better voting methods. I believe installing better voting methods is the most effective way to level the playing field for all candidates, get proper recognition for the (currently) minor parties and independent candidates, and give voters some real choices.

Missed in this discussion is

Missed in this discussion is Libertarian outreach to the left, a real effect. The LP opposes the resurgent draft-conscription, opposes the war in Iraq, and would re-legalize marijuana and repeal the patriot act. These are left, not right positions.

A Rasmussen poll paid for before the convention by the Russo campaign gave voters the choices Bush Kerry Russo, with the understanding that Russo wasthe only antidraft or antiwar candidate. Aaron drew 14 % of the vote in a scientific poll.

Oh, in the same poll, Bush was at 42% and Kerry was at 30%. Kerry has a huge vulnerability on peace issues, though not against Bush.

[...] ed question of where

[...] ed question of where true limited-government proponents can go on November 2nd, and if the LP’s stubbornly purist ideology will ever be taken seriously by the [...]