I’m going to put out a minor heresy here:
People worry entirely too much about electing “the right candidate” as though that would be some magic bullet that would get them the government they want. However, that’s going about it the wrong way. You can vote for a candidate far outside the political mainstream and perhaps that candidate will actually win and perhaps will do some things that will make things better (in a limited fashion because there are all those other candidates in other races winning because they are in the political mainstream who will limit what your “right candidate” can do). But it will not last, the next one along will simply undo the changes and probably double down on the “wrong things” (as you and your out of power “right candidate” see them) in backlash.
As Milton Friedman put it, the way we change things is not by electing the right people. It’s good to elect the right people, but that’s not the way we change things. No, the way we change things is by creating a climate of opinion such that it becomes politically profitable for the wrong people to do the right things.
That means that you need to worry less about the candidates running and more about convincing the electorate of the principles and values you want to further.
Anyone reading this blog very much should know that I lean very strongly libertarian. What I mostly want government to do is “don’t.” Don’t do this. Don’t do that. That other thing? Don’t do it either. There are very limited areas where government can work to increase the overall liberty of the people. (Being able to defend myself with arms is freedom; having to constantly do so because there’s no law and order is not. thus, there is some small level of government where the freedom of the individual is maximized.) Yes, the bounds of those limits are fuzzy and hard to precisely nail down. Yes, government will use any power it has to use that “fuzziness” to expand its power and continue to do so. Those are part of that “eternal vigilance” thing. It takes active, ongoing work to keep government in check to prevent it from growing beyond those narrow bounds. And, sadly, humanity has historically seemed to have the attention span of a goldfish and so lets that vigilance slip so that government inevitably grows more and more invasive.
Ostensibly, the Libertarian Party exists to fight back against that growth of government. the problem, from my experience dealing with folk involved in the official party, they tend to be focused too much on “electing the right people” (and generally focusing the vast majority of their attention on the Presidency) and far, far too little on “creating a climate of opinion.”
Outreach and recruitment is not exactly their strong suit. Particularly since entirely too many have an all or nothing approach and so we get.
“You know, I really think government is much too intrusive, but if we cut all these programs cold turkey, a lot of people will be hurt at least in the short term and that will cause a backlash against…”
“Statist! Taxation is Theft!”
“You know, I like the idea of a truly free society but if we import a lot of people who don’t believe in that then…”
“Statist! Open borders! People should be free to come here if they wish!”
“I really like the idea of free trade, but some places that don’t follow that have control of critical resources we need in order to maintain our standard of living. Perhaps if we have some kind of leverage between just letting them bleed us and outright conquest then…”
“Warmonger! You just want to impose your will on them by force!”
Frankly, I wonder sometimes if the Libertarians want to win. After Jim Weeks, a prospective Libertarian candidate for President stripped down to his briefs on stage at the Libertarian candidate debate to…prove what exactly? In my personal encounter with may Libertarian Party supporters I have come to the conclusion that they aren’t really interested in “winning” but in feeling good about their “no compromise” position. (Really? How is support for forcing a baker to use his artistic skills to make and decorate a custom cake for a cause to which he is religiously opposed a “no compromise” position on Liberty? Yet that’s one of the positions Libertarian Candidate Gary Johnson stated in the last election.)
If they want to make themselves feel good, that’s fine. Just close the door behind you and wash your hands afterward.
What we need is more outreach, more persuasion, more attempt to shift that “climate of opinion” so that liberty becomes politically profitable. That means being prepared to engage people and explain, calmly and rationally, why liberty is good both for them and for the public at large. It means accepting that not everyone, not even very many, will agree with everything right off the bat. And that’s okay. As long as they’re moving in the direction we want to go right now, in the direction of greater liberty, be willing to let go the points of disagreement for the time being. Get things moving in the direction of greater liberty, even if it’s only a little bit. Keep the big picture in mind. Where do we want to go? Is someone helping us get closer or are they moving us farther away? If it’s moving us closer, even if it’s flawed, even if it’s extremely flawed, then it’s something we should be encouraging.
One things are moving in the direction of more liberty and once people see that the increased liberty is good then, with further encouragement, that will further snowball into yet more climate of opinion in favor of liberty.
And then it will be much easier to elect the right people. It will also be much less necessary to elect the right people because even the wrong people will be doing the right things.
After all, it will be in their political self interest to do so.