Let's face it. Third parties got shellacked in the past election. Combined, third parties (Libertarians, Constitutionalists, Greens, etc.) made just barely one percent of the total vote. Compare that to Reform's high water mark of 19% in 1992. Something has gone seriously out of whack when a nation searching for new political answers keeps coming back to the same old Democratic and Republican solutions.
The fear-mongering of the Big Two in the 2004 elections played a huge role in that. "Don't waste your vote!" was tinged by the fear of death -- either from a political terrorist in a foreign country or from a political terrorist here at home.
But let's be honest. The Libertarians had a nutball for a candidate this time, even by our own standards. I've lost the link to a great writeup of the Libertarian nominating convention in Knoxville last summer, but it shed some disturbing light on our candidate, Michael Badnarik. He was a true dark horse behind the two front runners, Aaron Russo and Gary Nolan. Either of them would have made fine, fine candidates. But a convention stalemate led to a surprise opening for Badnarik that saw him win the nomination.
As it became clear he would win, several of the Party's organisational people went to Badnarik to ask him if there was anything that they should know, skeletons in the closet-wise. He said no. But afterwards, when he sealed the nomination, as conventioneers began to leave, word got out that Badnarik hadn't paid Federal income taxes in several years! He was also the guy who promised, in his platform, to call a special session of Congress to re-teach the Constitution to Senators and Representaties and to get them to swear a new oath to it, a wild misreading of the separation of powers. And he was the nominee. That's why I did almost no campaigning for Badnarik on this blog, even though he was who I ultimately voted for.
So, in a way, we dodged a bullet. No media attention meant no uncomfortable questions. But we've also gone from getting five percent of the vote just a decade ago, and having a promising future, to being unknowns all over again in the Us vs. Them (Republicans vs. Democrats) political sphere. The 2008 Presidential cycle doesn't seem to be shaping up to favor us either, unless we act hard and fast.
I suspect the Dems will drift further to the Left. Anti-war, isolationist and Internationalist at the same time, higher taxes for bigger programs; more and more divisive, identity-group politics, etc. The Republicans will have to face up, sooner or later, to their out-of-control spending and hazy domestic agenda that doesn't sound at all Republican.
It's an opportunity for a well-spoken, calm Libertarian candidate to jump in. I lean towards Russo myself. He's a former Hollywood producer who understands marketing. If he can draft talk-radio experienced Gary Nolan to join him in promoting the Libertarians, it's a powerful combination.
We also need someone who can promote what I call a "gradualist" approach. Democrats have always stood for a fully Statist government, one that has law, regulations, agencies and bureaucrats reaching into every area of your life for your own good. But they know when to mute that core truth and when to accept small, short-term defeats that clear the way for larger, longer-term wins. Republicans in '94 came out with the Contract With America, which was very far-reaching. But it was broken up into achievable steps and platforms that could move at individual paces. It was slowly strangled in the Congress, but parts of it are still with us a decade later and its architect, Newt Gingrich, is making a political comeback.
So it should be for Libertarians. Over and over and over again, our candidates talk about how, THE DAY AFTER THE ELECTION, we will transform this nation into a libertarian paradise. Old government programs will be thrown out the window by Inauguration Day Executive Order; the Drug War and drug laws will cease immediately; we will recall our military from all over the world that day, etc. It is both scary and flies in the face of common sense. No one votes for revolution. They vote for change.
The Libertarians should advocate small steps for change in our national direction. We should ally with House Speaker Dennis Hastert in income tax reform. Even getting a simple, one-rate / no deductions plan would be a major step in the libertarian direction! We should stand behind privatisation of Social Security via individual accounts, which appeals to young Republicans. It's a step towards a fully privatised retirement system, the work of decades not Presidential fiat. We should be clear to the American people that defense of the nation is a core Libertarian principle, as is the volunteer army, but that we are over-reaching. We should advocate the continuance and furtherance of base closings around the world.
We should recognise that President Bush has finally started America down the path of disengagement with the United Nations and onto the path of ad-hoc alliances for specific purposes, as in the "six-nations talks" with Korea. We should pledge to continue down that path, by reducing funding and by reducing our involvement in the UN and in NATO. What we shouldn't do is to threaten to pull out of the UN entirely and blow up its headquarters. We should also recognise that the European Union now has the responsibility of the defense of Europe.
We should ally with those Dems who advocate the medicalisation of the "drug problem." We must strenthen our border defense with Mexico, while ridding drug dealers of the incredible profits the Drug War gives them. Reduce the amount of police effort we waste on nickel'n'dime users and divert it into the gangs and serious crimes of assault and property.
Libertarians should be front and center on civil unions for gays. It serves a triple purpose. We gain support from like-minded Dems who want full marital recognition, but are willing to accept this short-term step. We gain support from Republicans who want to give gay unions something like a marriage imprimatur, but cannot accept the whole hog just yet. We Libertarians get America to try out and eventually accept the idea that marriage shouldn't be a government issue, but a personal, contractual and religious one.
And on and on. I think you get the idea here.
The Reform Party tapped into a powerful impulse in the American people for more and different answers and approaches to the political ills we face. George Bush43 was able to tap into that and ride it, but now the skepticism is rising again as the Republicans turn out to be no different in their office-holding behavior than the Democrats were. There are a lot of disillusioned Republicans who wonder what happened to the "small government" claims of their party. There are a lot of Democrats who want genuine personal freedoms, not government-granted and monitored ones; who are opposed to American militarism abroad, but not a strong military defending the nation at home and where necessary. It's a pool to be tapped, nurtured and grown.
America can and should be at least a three-party nation. Look to Britain, where it's worked quite well for thirty years. Over there, after decades of a similar back and forth between their two major parties (Labor and Conservative), the growth of a viable third party actually led to the severe retrenchment and rebirth of both parties. Labor first until the early Nineties and now the Conservatives, who find themselves in the same woodshed the Democrats in America are marching towards. And their government continues to function quite well.
Personally, I think America is large enough -- geographically, socially and politically -- to support five parties. One day I'll list them and explain my thinking. But for now, I can settle on three. Let's start there. That's the gradualist approach.