Sunday, 1 February 2004

Whither the Libertarians (and the libertarians)?

Stephen Green has caused quite a stir with his two posts on the schism between “doctrinaire” and “pragmatic” libertarians over the conflict in Iraq and the broader War on Terror. The schism is really nothing new, and at some levels is analogous to the “anarchist/minarchist” split in the movement; it all basically boils down to a question of “how much of a statist can you be and still call yourself a libertarian?” Martin Devon of Patio Pundit describes it thusly:

I often hear Libertarians lament that the two party systems prevents them from being able to take power and implement their vision. Hogwash. That’s the same thing you hear from the Greens, the Ross Perots and Jesse Venturas. Feh. The Republican and Democrat parties have dominated the political landscape because they’ve done the difficult work of translating a guiding philosophy into votes. In order to that they’ve had to cut some corners and make some unholy alliances. Libertarians could do the same thing.

As many bloggers have commented, there is a segment of the American population who believe in the “leave me alone” school. In order to make them happy you just have to leave them alone—on guns, on gays, on regulation, on religion. These sentiments draw considerable support from both red states and blue states, and therefore Libertarians could amass power by taking over the leadership of either the Democrats or the Republicans.

The truth is that they already have, but when they compromise enough to win power Libertarians are too pure to recognize one of their own. What do you think Arnold the Governator is? He’s a Libertarian who has traded some purity for power.

Now, as someone who himself has left the Libertarian Party for many of the same reasons that Stephen and others are repelled by it, I don’t know that I can offer any constructive advice. In a lot of ways, the party is trapped by the dominant narrative created for it by the media: full of weird people who have turned themselves blue or have strange views on prison rehabilitation and meet with potential voters in pizza parlors. That alone makes the “Ron Paul” strategy a compelling one. In other ways—although Martin discounts it—the party is trapped by electoral rules designed to favor the existing parties and agenda-setting effects by the press that stop libertarians from advancing their message through unpaid media. The LP has spent decades building a grassroots organization, the net impact of which on American politics has been approximately zero—by contrast, the small amount of media attention Ralph Nader garnered for the Greens in 2000 allowed them to build a comparably strong party organization in mere months.

But “Ron Paulism” isn’t all that effective either. Neither major party’s leading presidential contenders come close to sharing libertarian values—the Republicans treat their alleged principles of limited and small government as bargaining chips to be traded for support from the hard right, while the Democrats sit around whining about a PATRIOT Act that virtually all of them voted in favor of for cynical electoral reasons. The desperation associated with being in the “electoral wilderness” has brought Democrats closer to socialism, not libertarianism, and there’s no reason to believe a few years out of the White House will make Republicans genuinely turn to libertarian ideas either—they, like the Democrats, are far too wedded to the concept of The State as a credible moral actor, the only difference being that they’d use it to advance different moral ends. I don’t know what the solution is, but it isn’t going to come from John F. Kerry or George W. Bush.

Update: Gary Farber thinks Eric Raymond’s piece takes the slippery slope argument a tad too far.

Superbowl prediction

Patriots by 3—even though I want the Panthers to win.

Howard's End: Wisconsin?

Both Sean Hackbarth and Matt Ygelsias note new Dean campaign head honcho Roy Neel’s submarine strategy for gaining the nomination:

Our goal for the next two and a half weeks is simple—become the last-standing alternative to John Kerry after the Wisconsin primary on February 17.

Why Wisconsin? First, it is a stand-alone primary where we believe we can run very strong. Second, it kicks off a two-week campaign for over 1,100 delegates on March 2, and the shift of the campaign that month to nearly every big state: California, New York, and Ohio on March 2, Texas and Florida on March 9, Illinois on March 16, and Pennsylvania on April 27.

In the meantime, Howard Dean is traveling to many of the February 3 states, sending surrogates—including Al Gore—to most, and conducting radio interviews in all. We believe that one or more of our major opponents will be eliminated that day, and that the others will fall by the wayside as our strength grows in the following days. As a result we have elected to not buy television advertisements in February 3 states, but instead direct our resources toward the February 7 and 8 contests in Michigan, Washington and Maine. We may not win any February 3 state, but even third place finishes will allow us to move forward, continue to amass delegates in Virginia and Tennessee on February 10, and then strongly challenge Kerry in Wisconsin.

Regardless of who takes first place in these states, we think that after Wisconsin we’ll get Kerry in the open field. Remember one crucial thing about the 2004 calendar—in previous years a front-runner or presumptive nominee would typically emerge after most of the states had voted and most of the delegates had been chosen. The final competitor to that candidate, even if he won late states, as many have done, has not been able to win a majority of delegates under any scenario.

This year is very different. The media and the party insiders will attempt to declare Kerry the winner on February 3 after fewer than 10% of the state delegates have been chosen. At that point Kerry himself will probably have claimed fewer than one third of the delegates he needs to win. They would like the campaign to be over before the voters of California, New York, Texas and nearly every other big state have spoken.

Democrats in Florida, who witnessed a perversion of democracy in November 2000, will not have a choice concerning the nominee if the media and the party insiders have their way.

We intend to make this campaign a choice. We alone of the remaining challengers to John Kerry are geared to the long haul—we’ve raised nearly $2 million in the week after Iowa, over $600,000 in the 48 hours since New Hampshire. No candidate—not even Kerry, who mortgaged his house and tapped his personal fortune to funnel $7 million into his campaign—will have sufficient funds to advertise in all, or even most, of the big states that fall on March 2 and beyond. At that point paid advertising becomes much less of a factor.

The question is whether Dean’s campaign can stop the bleeding long enough, and keep the cash rolling in, while Kerry racks up primary wins in state after state and pulls ahead in the delegate count. February 17th isn’t that far off, but for Dean—who may not pick up a single delegate between today and then, due to the 15% threshold rule†—it could nonetheless be too far off. To be competitive after Wisconsin, Dean will need the cash in hand to run effective ads in “big media” states like California, Florida, and Texas to counter the inevitable publicity and fundraising advantages Kerry will have as the presumptive frontrunner, and to expand his base beyond the core activists and true believers. Presumably Dean will pick up some support from Clark’s base after Clark leaves the field, but I don’t think that’s enough to build a lead over Kerry anywhere.

That isn’t to say it’s a bad strategy to employ, relative to all the others. Dean already knew February 3rd was a lost cause without the expected momentum from New Hampshire and Iowa, and he can probably wait out Clark and Lieberman’s inevitable withdrawals. The race should be a 3-man contest by the time Wisconsin rolls around, assuming Edwards wins South Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia. I just don’t know that any strategy can save the Dean campaign now, barring a collapse by Kerry.

Update: Colby Cosh notes that Joe Lieberman may win more delegates than Dean on Tuesday, due to the former’s decent showing in the polls in Delaware. However, Steven Jens’s estimates disagree.

Also of note: Eric Lindholm finds promise in the strategy, while Greg of Begging to Differ doesn’t see how it could work.

† It isn’t actually that bad: Dean will probably pick up a few delegates in Michigan and Washington, as the 15% rule is applied at the congressional district level; assuming he can get his student supporters (hopefully registered already!) to come out and vote, he should pick up a delegate or two from each of the congressional districts that Michigan, Michigan State, Washington, and Washington State are in. However, I’m not sure the media estimates are including the congressional district factor in their election-night calculations, which may hurt perceptions of his strength based on early returns.