When Two Plus One Equals Two
By John Taylor
Special to The Libertarian Enterprise
The Washington Times, much to its credit -- and unlike its big sister counterpart (known to "G-Man" fans everywhere as "The Washington 'Bleep'") -- will, on occasion, make a valiant attempt at presenting more than one side of a particular issue in its Commentary section.
On January 14th, the Times offered two opinions on the state of American political structures under the common headline "Third party political perils...and virtues." The contending articles were entitled "Labels with meaning" by Graham Wilson, and "A broken system" by Gordon S. Black.
"Labels with meaning" asserts that our two 'major' political parties are functioning better than ever, and the undercurrent of support for a third party is totally incomprehensible. Says Wilson, "The answer is not that parties are doing a poor job but that they are performing their function better than for many years." Wilson contends that the two majors are forced to be stable and centrist, and that they are accountable by their records. He dismisses the Perot phenomenon of 1992 on the grounds that Perot was able to make "meaningless promises", without having to demonstrate a record to support his positions.
Wilson, a professor of government at the University of Wisconsin, really needs to get out more among some real people. While assigning Perot a correct (failing) grade for credibility, Wilson does not explain why Perot drew so large a percentage of the popular vote. Neither does he explain why so many citizens seem to feel that neither party is responsive to the will of the people -- in fact, the situation clearly perplexes him.
Black, on the other hand, seems to understand that the two party system has become America's largest dysfunctional family. He correctly identifies the grossly unfair advantage the two parties have finagled for incumbents, and other areas in which they exercise "joint complicity in a process that benefits ... both parties at the state and national levels.
Unfortunately, Mr. Black, identified as the co-author of "The Politics of America's Discontent", has identified the salvation of American politics as none other than -- drum roll -- Ross Perot, who will present America with "...the unpleasant facts about the condition of our country and its political process." Black asserts that the presentation of these facts will spur "realistic debate", which is, he says, "...what an effective democracy is all about, and it is precisely what the two parties have denied us over the past 30 years."
Nowhere in either article is there any indication that there is a viable third party extant, whose platform and philosophy addresses, head-on, the issues that each author correctly identifies, those on which they are mightily confused, and a few more besides. I realize it is anathema to use the "L-word" in the mainstream press, but it seems we have no other choice if we are to sort out this debate. So mothers, cover your children's ears. This could get ugly.
In 1994, something happened -- something that, I hope, was the harbinger of real change in American politics. To the Democrats and the 'media elite', it was a temper tantrum by a two-year-old, a howl of rage from angry white men, or an attempt to subvert the government by extremist elements. To the Republicans, it was a repudiation of decades of control by the liberal wing and a validation of Republican 'values'. I believe it was neither, and 1996 will prove that the people had something a little different in mind.
Regardless of party affiliation, a number of people out here in the real world express a belief in libertarian (I warned you it was coming!) values and philosophy, while not necessarily supporting the Libertarian Party itself. These people recognize that there is precious little to differentiate between Republicans and Democrats, for the most part, and their votes reflect that fact. Infatuation with Perot was a first attempt at expressing beliefs other than those spoon-fed by the political establishment. That particular expression will not be repeated. The people have learned, and moved on.
It is an aberration -- one that the Republicans would do well to note carefully -- that the majority of freshmen in the House and Senate were members of the Republican party. This anomaly results partly from the fact that it is pretty darned hard for anyone with true libertarian tendencies to be a Democrat these days, given that Democrats have abandoned all pretense of republican government, having fatally misinterpreted the phrase "government of the people".
But take note of the fractious nature of the freshman Republicans. Many of these folks don't merely pay lip service to smaller government while transferring funds from the "welfare state" to the "warfare state". Some of them are really serious about getting the federal Leviathan back under control of the people, and the Republican leadership is only now slowly beginning to recognize that fact, much to their growing consternation. Expect to see the Republican leadership paying much more lip service to supporting the freshmen, all the while attempting to subvert their initiatives.
In the meantime, the Libertarian Party, which should be the big beneficiary of this recognition by the electorate, languishes in the political backwaters, just as it has all along. True, this is in part due to the malevolence of the two major parties and their ruthless suppression of competition, but it is also due to the Libertarian Party's inability to present itself in a positive light to the average American voter. Even given the people's libertarian tendencies, the homologue they are most likely to associate with "libertarian" is "libertine", instead of "liberty". The Libertarian Party has never been shy about its philosophy -- and its philosophy has remained consistent and coherent over the years. This has proved a difficult concept for many people.
Unfortunately, the Libertarian Party, at a time when it should be organizing to realize the gains to which it is surely due, is busy trying to tear itself apart. And why now, of all the times to do so? Well, there are a lot of Libertarian Party members who believe that it will never make any gains unless it "tones down" its more unpopular stands, plays up its more "popular" positions, and accepts some tenets of political thought that are more commonly associated with the two major parties.
What the revisionists in the Libertarian Party fail to realize is that this is the time when the traditional demarcation lines in American politics are becoming fault lines instead. What the Libertarian Party needs to do is to define a rallying point where all of the various disaffected segments of the American population can meet. And only the Libertarian Party can pull together such a synthesis. Can a rallying point be found? I believe so.
The Libertarian Party, starting yesterday, ought to seek to form a coalition with disaffected Republicans and Democrats, with tax resisters, sovereignty advocates, judicial and penal reform proponents, with states rightists and civil rights advocates, with property rightists, firearms rights advocates, and with all the other groups that have, at their core, a common basis for their advocacy -- restoration of the constitutional republic system of government that the Founding Fathers designed, true to the first principles that formulated the freest society ever conceived. That such a restoration will require great effort and sacrifice is axiomatic; but a true patriot coalition could do it in our lifetimes.
Such a simple solution -- and yet one that has broad-based appeal among a wide spectrum of grassroots organizations. Imagine a coalition formed around a simple principle such as: We will support no program, pass no law, fund no branch of government bureaucracy that does not strictly conform to the constraints of the Constitution of the United States -- and we will dissolve such existing programs, repeal such existing laws, and de-fund such bureaucracies that cannot pass a strict constitutional test. And everything -- yes, everything -- beyond the Constitution and the Bill of Rights is fair game for scrutiny. Think of it and picture who would be the most nervous, the most fearful, of such a movement. Then realize that those are the very people who represent the worst of the current political spoils system. How could such a movement be denied?
Leading the charge with a rallying cry of "Restore the Constitution", the Libertarian Party might finally achieve the real-world status that it so richly deserves in principle. And even with that we would not so much have a third party on the political playing field as we would have a true two-party system once again.
John Taylor is the Maryland Coordinator of the Libertarian Second Amendment Caucus.
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