It’s easy to get romantically swept away by the fervent crowds and revolutionary bombast of a systematized, even impromptu, campaign rally. But as Ron Paul has had to ascertain the difficult way, political reality is another beast. That is, had Ron Paul’s crowds been a genuine indicator of sociopolitical headway, he would have carted far more delegates than he did.
But the art of politics is much more.
The highest percentage a libertarian presidential candidate has ever garnered during a general presidential election is 1.6 percent — Ed Clark in 1980. One might appropriately assume that in the 30 years since, the vote has been augmented — but it hasn’t. What’s more, it’s actually declined. Which beckons the question: At what point do libertarians concede they have a message problem?
Even Ross Perot — a candidate for the Reform Party — managed to carry 19 percent of the national popular vote during his presidential run in 1992. To parallel, Ron Paul carried a derisory 0.04 percent of the popular vote in 2008. So can libertarianism really laud itself as America’s third largest and most popular ideology?
This is not to suggest that the nuts and bolts of the libertarian message are wrong. They are not. But it is to suggest that the lacquer on the nuts and bolts of the libertarian message is wrong. And the quicker libertarians appreciate, accede, and remedy this, the quicker and more effectively libertarians can commence promulgating their agenda.
Too often, libertarians have a propensity to sneer and patronize — to overly philosophize and to ultimately drown themselves in the semantics of an otherwise trivial pursuit. Instead of searching for areas of agreement with a Republican that, for instance, expresses admiration for a president like Abraham Lincoln, many libertarians would immediately seize the opportunity to deride Lincoln as a war criminal and a barbarian, in turn, driving an otherwise potential convert away.
Even I am not exempt from this flaw. But such an approach hasn’t worked for the past 40 years and there’s no reason to assume it’s going to work now. There is always a time and place for engaging in such fascinating discussions. Meeting somebody the first time is generally not that time or place.
Libertarians would similarly do well to divorce themselves from conspiratorial jesters and movements. Theatrical and rhetorical buffoonery does libertarianism no favors. It only impairs and tarnishes libertarianism in the realm of public perception. Equally, it hinders consequential political discourse in the greater political arena.
Moreover, when national unemployment is 8.1 percent, libertarians should be edifying the public and orating free-market economics — libertarianism’s noblest suit — not ranting about thermite. Indeed, conspiracy theories are a scourge to libertarianism and its circles.
To its credit, Students For Liberty has been a leader in the libertarian community on this front. But more organizations and prominent libertarians should speak out; that is, if the end goal is to secure libertarianism as a viable and credible ideology.
It is understandable why the initial inclination of most libertarians is to reject the doctrines of Machiavelli. It is, after all, Machiavelli’s philosophies which have been used to empower governments and politicians, thus subjugating entire populaces for centuries.
But libertarians would be politically and strategically shrewd to examine and comprehend books like The Prince. Machiavelli’s “the ends justify the means” needn’t merely empower governments, it can, likewise, be used to empower and disseminate liberty. Furthermore, since libertarians often do not understand such tactics, they merely make themselves available for the same tactics to be employed against them.
Rand Paul is a subtle example of “the ends justify the means” theory. When Rand Paul endorsed Mitt Romney, he was derided and belittled, castigated as a modern day Benedict Arnold by libertarians. However, his message at the GOP convention reached an audience of 33 million, far greater than his father who spoke to 8,000 in the Sun Dome.
Suffice it to say, Rand — while perhaps not as libertarian as his father — realizes, unlike his father, that the game of football is rarely won with a single 100 yard pass, but instead, the laborious process of pushing the ball forward one yard at a time. Many libertarians, on the other hand, don’t realize this.
Subsequently, libertarians are, most of the time, not standing for principle, but merely running in circles, nonsensically pottering in the mastication of their own objectives. Even the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. constitution were results of compromises between the individuals that drafted them.
The good and the perfect
There is a war between the good and the perfect taking place within the libertarian ideology. There are those that believe change must come in the form of one giant conspicuous storybook swoop. And there are those who believe that sustainable change must come in the form of practical and subtle increments.
For forty years we’ve tried the former to frivolous avail. It’s time we entertained the latter.
Written by Brandon Loran Maxwell. This blog post originally appeared at StudentsForLiberty.org