7 Ways to Revitalize the Libertarian Party

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Written by Aaron Mathis
Follow him on Twitter @The_Real_Mathis

2016 was a year of firsts for the Libertarian Party.  Gary Johnson, who secured 3% of the national vote, had pockets well exceeding 5% in some counties across the country. Mark Miller of Texas, who was running for Railroad Commisioner, gained 5.3% of the popular vote in his race, securing Texas ballot access.

Unfortunately while it was a time for firsts, it was also a dismal showing for the Libertarians. Johnson and his running mate Bill Weld didn’t achieve the Libertarian establishment coveted 5% for Federal election funds. Ballot access, howbeit with variable stipulations from state to state, was not secured in many states meaning that time, energy and money has to be spent on sending people to gather signatures in order to gain that access.

Moving past this year, here are seven ways to revitalize the Libertarian Party.

1. Embrace a pro-life stance

I’m not just suggesting an anti-abortion stance. Think broader. As libertarians we seek to preserve the liberty of all people, and understandably, there is some debate what constitutes a human. Some fringes of the Libertarian Party have factions that believe in after birth abortion, meaning until the baby is at a certain age, the primary caretaker can choose to kill the baby.

But rather than focusing just on being anti-abortion, we need to focus on creating a pro-life environment with fewer regulations on adopting, and inexpensive alternatives to abortion.

Libertarians have already embraced a pro-life stance when it comes to the death penalty, but are hesitant to take a step arguing for a full pro-life stance as it applies to babies.

2. Run for local office

It is ludicrous that we expect to make it on the national stage when there are very few of us holding local office. I understand that running for office is not for everyone, and it can be intimidating, but if we expect the cause of liberty to be taken seriously we cannot sit idly by and think we can just take the presidency by storm.

We need to take baby steps to gain relevancy and move up in the ranks. If we prove we can be taken seriously in positions of less responsibility, we will gain the respect and notoriety to hold higher office.

3. Long term planning

This is the one thing I have to hand to Karl Marx and progressives. They set a long term plan, publish it, act on it, and accomplish it. Republicans on the other hand are widely short sighted, focusing on one or two issues solely and fighting year to year for a majority.

In my years of following the Libertarian Party, I have seen very little future planning. Now perhaps this is done behind closed doors, and kept a secret, but the base must be informed. If there is no vision, there is no future.

4. Abandon the “Pot Party” label

Libertarianism is all about freedom to choose for yourself what you do, and to take personal responsibility. But this doesn’t mean flaunting it, or turning it into a flagship issue.

I have had three lengthy conversations about the Libertarian Party during the last week since the election. Within the first 30 seconds someone drops the phrase “weed smoking republicans.”

I don’t smoke, partake, or otherwise use marijuana, and barring a legitimate medical reason I doubt I ever will. And I am fine with erasing the laws on the books as I don’t believe that drugs of any kind should be classified, but when we have major (or minor) players in the party doing live streams while smoking a bowl, or talking about how stoned they get, we lose legitimacy. Freedom is a great thing, but flaunting it is damaging.

This is a major reason it has taken me so long to identify as a Libertarian in my state. As a non-partaker, I didn’t want to be labeled as a pothead.

5. Stop talking about ideologies and start acting on them

Libertarians are known for their debating, and while debate is good, many people only see the infighting and the hatred within the party. Most people who claim to be libertarian know the ins and outs of open borders, the writings of Ayn Rand, the problems with the FED, and how to convince a progressive that “taxation is theft.”

But we can’t expect to be taken seriously when we don’t apply the most simple acts of kindness that truly defines libertarianism. We claim that good will and benevolence can make up for a lack of a welfare state, and that people will volunteer for different opportunities, yet I hear stories about local Libertarian parties trying to set up community service activities and no one wanting to participate.

6. Embrace conservatives

During the Johnson/Weld 2016 campaign, it seemed like every move that was made catered to courting progressives. Yet, conservatives, the ones who are the most likely to join the libertarian ranks due to disenfranchisement, are widely ignored, and in many cases mocked.

As a party of freedom, we should embrace all people with the caveat that you can personally do what you want as long as you don’t advocate the government forcing you to accept it. I don’t have to agree with everyone in the party, and I can tell you I never will, as we are a diverse group, but chastising someone who believes something different will never build the party.

7. Principle over popularity

Understand that this was an odd year. Many of us plugged our nose and voted for the lesser of three evils. It was a calculated move. We all had our reasons, but some people within the Libertarian party are still raising Johnson and Weld as the greatest thing to ever happen to us.

We need to get back to embracing solid principles instead of chasing down donation money. If I were a betting man, I would bet that if we didn’t have Weld on the ticket, we would have hit 4%. If we had picked someone more articulate and less goofy than Johnson, I believe we could have possibly hit 25%. Now this is speculation and guessing, but the point remains. Principles always speak louder than name recognition.

Why did Donald Trump win? The major reason people voted for him wasn’t that they knew him from the apprentice. It is because in addition to being a political outsider, he laid out plans of how to deal with the situations that people were concerned about. Democrats ignored the issues and targeted Trump’sshady past. Bernie Sanders could have won the primary if the Democrats were not clearly paving the way for Hillary. He gained a following because he was issue oriented.

While I am optimistic and hopeful that the Libertarian Party can secure the presidency in 2020, between now and then we must take small steps to direct the course of the movement. If we expect to make major strides in the United States, we must set the example for others and show them how rewarding freedom is by starting small and becoming a solid political movement that cannot be destroyed.

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  • Tony From Long Island

    I find it amazingly clueless that the very first issue listed is probably the most divisive in the LP. Are you kidding? Become more pro-life? And that would HELP?
    two through six are all well and fine, but you are way off on point seven. Yes, Gov. Johnson was a bit goofy (OK, a lot goofy) no other candidate on that stage in Orlando would have cracked 1%.- Ok maybe 1.5%
    Gov. Weld HELPED vote totals, not the opposite. As Goofy as Gov. Johnson was, he had credibility. Why did he get probably 10 times the media than Jill Stein? He (and his running mate) had been governors. They had been elected to SOMETHING.
    Austin Petersen can bloviate and shout slogans until he is hoarse (though he should be doing it for the republican party, not the LP) but being a slogan-spewer doesn’t equate to votes. If it did, we would be talking about former President Harry Browne

    • scopeless22 .

      Then explain why an unknown, Evan McMullin, who also was never elected to anything, managed to get 21% of the vote in Utah and ended up with .4% of the vote despite not even being on the ballot in most states and only starting his campaign 3 months before election day? Johnson was for Libertarians what Hillary was for Dems and Trump was for Reps, an overall bad choice.

      • Tony From Long Island

        1) Hillary wasn’t a bad choice for Dems. She received about two million more votes than Trump

        2) If you can’t see why McMuffin did well in Utah, then I don’t know what to tell you. Utahns, like many around the country, found Trump morally repugnant. Had he been on all 50 ballots he still would have been below 1%

        • scopeless22 .

          1) And was more than 3 million under Obama from 2012, despite population growth. She was also running against, and lost to, Donald Trump.

          2) Why couldn’t Johnson get those votes? His headquarters was in Utah also. Gary started running in January and based his headquarters there yet didn’t break 4%. Evan started in August, in the middle of the Hillary Trump shit show yet connected with enough voters to get 20%.

          Gary was a bad choice, his interviews with him looking like he didn’t know anything and just wanted to roll a joint made that glaringly obvious, and him picking Webb was just the icing on the bad choice cake. Libertarians had the best chance this election cycle but decided they wanted be like the bigger political parties and pick a terrible representative. Good job.

          • Tony From Long Island

            In my book, the person with the most votes is not the loser . . .
            Second, I dunno who “Webb” is, but Bill Weld was the best thing that happened to the LP ticket.
            You keep harping on Utah. Why would having his headquarters there have any relation to vote totals? Gary is not a social conservative. McMuffin is. Hence the Utah result. McMuffin is also a Mormon who LIVES in Utah.
            The best LP result in its history (I voted for Johnson) by a mile yet, still the whining and complaining. It’s a trait the LP is known for. One of the reasons I left the LP.

          • scopeless22 .

            You must not have a copy of the constitution in that book of yours.

            Best result in an election cycle where both party candidates had unfavorable ratings in the double digits. It’s one thing to get a decent number of voters in a cycle where you have “god king” obama and a republican who doesn’t make you wanna vomit, but to do so this year and call it a win is just sad.

    • Aaron Mathis

      Hi Tony,

      Thank you for your thoughts.

      Yes, I am absolutely serious on number 1. The topic of abortion and not recognizing it as a form of murder is the number 1 detractor for millions of people. I understand the argument stems from whether it is murder or not. But I come from a school of thought that even if something isn’t bad, maybe it isn’t the best option. There are other options than abortion. It’s time for us as a party to embrace life and seek alternatives.

      Secondly, on Johnson. The data is still coming in, but preliminary data shows that in states where there was a libertarian candidate running for governor, they got better results than Johnson and Weld. There is no coincidence to this. We can claim they did great, but in fact they did worse than other candidates running.

      Third, Petersen may own this website, but he was never mentioned in this article.

    • Boulder Commonsense

      re: “Become more pro-life? And that would HELP?”

      Yup, that strategy would do more harm than good. The author of this column seems to grasp that advocating legalizing drugs doesn’t mean that you think they are good, merely that you think the government shouldn’t be involved. Someone who thinks drugs are evil can be in favor of legalization if they grasp the war on drugs does more harm than good (or that it isn’t the government’s business). There is now an abortion pill, which means advocating that abortion be illegal is advocating for a War on Drugs for abortion drugs.

      I’d suggest instead that those who are personally anti-abortion decide its ok to keep government out of the issue and become pro-choice politically. Not everything that is considered a “sin” by any group, or immoral or unethical is against the law, nor should it be, in part since various groups will disagree. Many aspects of human behavior are “policed” by social pressure rather than government police. Many who are anti-abortion take the stance for religions reasons (not all) and should consider whether they should suggest that punishment be left up to any God that exists rather than man.

      I’d suggest they’d likely have far more impact on reducing the number of abortions if they focused on things like legalizing paying someone to adopt their child, to provide incentive to those who would otherwise have an abortion to instead carry the child to term. There are several times as many people who wish to adopt a baby in this country than there are abortions in the US each year (though that is based on a quick check I did out of curiosity recently, I hadn’t confirmed the numbers).

      Many religious people (I’m a non-believer, but I’ve read enough about the topic) view humans as having been given the free will to “sin” in order to prove their nature to a God and to be judged for it. If humans make a “sin” illegal, that increases the odds someone is avoiding sinning to avoid man’s punishment, rather than to avoid punishment from a God or due to making a moral choice. Leaving some sins legal allows humans to have a choice to prove their nature and be judged by it. It seems odd that many religious people are so vehemently opposed to abortion, when many theologians (not all) suggest that the aborted soul would get a free pass to heaven (or will be born another time) since they hadn’t sinned. They suggest that to think an aborted soul would not be treated mercifully (e.g. due to “original sin”they are born with through no fault of their own) is to doubt the claimed mercy of their God and its fairness by suggesting those who did no wrong are punished. If an aborted soul goes to heaven, it would seem mothers who risk committing a sin via abortion are doing them a favor, whether intentional or not. Presumably this issue isn’t emphasized out of fear women would have abortions for the sake of their unborn child even if it means they are punished.

    • Boulder Commonsense

      Yup, i doubt any of the other people that ran for the LP nomination would have done as well as Johnson. I cringed also when hearing his non libertarians stances (like regarding forcing bakers to make cakes against their will), but I doubt that made much of an impact on his results. His campaign was flawed, but the major handicap the LP starts with is the media not taking it seriously.

      People underestimate what it takes for third party candidates to get any attention at all, and Johnson likely got more than the other potential Libertarian candidates would have. Unfortunately the anti-third party leanings of the media led them to choose gaffes to give attention to and blow out of proportion, ignoring myriad substantive issues they could have covered. People are naive if they think the other people who wished to run would have been superhuman and never made a gaffe (perhaps after not sleeping well enough due to working on the campaign long hours), and if they don’t realize the media would have picked up on their gaffes to trash them just as they did with Johnson.

      • The LP had a golden opportunity and they fluffed it. Of course.

        PS – Libertarianism doesn’t deserve to be taken seriously by anyone.

    • Joseph Collins

      “…being a slogan-spewer doesn’t equate to votes. If it did, we would be talking about former President Harry Browne.”

      This election proved many things, but one of them is that slogans work: “bring back jobs,” “build the wall,” “lock her up,” “strong military,” and of course, “Make America Great Again” …Donald Trump’s winning campaign was built on slogans.