Principles and Pragmatism

I’ve been voting for Libertarian Party candidates for 26 years. That’s a lot of write-in candidates over the years. I fully stand on our principles but the fact of the matter is that the Libertarian Party has not made a substantive impact on American Politics since it’s founding.

What are our goals as a party? Do we want to effect real change? Do we want to make an impact on policy? Are we satisfied merely being a protest vote? Or do we want to continue to founder on our hard-line principled high ground only to criticize the duopoly for their folly? Honestly, I’m tired of that as I’ve been doing it for the better part of my adult life. I want to see this party grow and make a real impact on American politics.

Clearly, people are fed up with the two-party system. The Democratic and Republican party registrations are shrinking and independents make up the largest voting bloc. There’s a real opportunity here for a 3rd-party to make a real impact.

So why haven’t we made an impact?

You could point to several external factors. The CPD keeping us out of the debates. The duopoly tilting the system against us. The winner-take-all voting structure. You could say “everything will be better if we change to ranked-choice, STAR, or SCORE voting” or “If we could only get into the debates!” Yes, those are all factors. But they’re really excuses.

The truth of the matter is we’re our own worst enemies.


Because we have consistent principles, we tend fall back those principles in any political conversation. We think our principles are simple while our detractors have made simple memes about “What about the roads?” and “Somalia, libertarian paradise.” The truth of the matter is that our ideas are not that simple to explain in application to a world now accustomed to bite-size morsels of media, memes, and slogans.

In my opinion the other way we hurt ourselves is that too many people in this party are tone-deaf when it comes to our image. We don’t care how we appear to non-libertarians…even those that we could attract to the party. We should be looking at independents and moderates from either party as potential libertarians. We just need to sell them on ideas, then explain the principles behind those concepts. We tend to do it the other way around. We explain the principles, then how it applies. People just really want to know what we want to do but they are not ready for the end goals. It’s actually beyond their comprehension.

Too often I feel that there are people in the party that treat the LP like the Cool Kids Club. That if you don’t take a hard-line on principles, then you’re booed at our conventions or excoriated on social media. The attitude seems to be, “This is who we are, screw you if you don’t like it.” This is not furthering our cause.

These flaws are all fine and dandy if you want the Libertarian Party to continue to be nothing more than a protest vote. I’m tired of the protest vote when I believe we’re capable of so much more. We have to be willing to change…to be more self-aware. Being a pragmatist does not mean sacrificing principles. The end goal is still the same. Where pragmatists and hardliners diverge is how we get there and how we present ourselves to the American public.

The fact of the matter is that the American public has been indoctrinated for decades that government is the solution to whatever problems Americans think need to be solved. You can’t undo that with a snap of the fingers and stroke of the pen. Undoing the damage from this mindset will take decades. The American people aren’t ready for that. So how do we get there?

I can tell you how we won’t get there. By maintaining a hard line. By giving serious consideration and nominating candidates that a majority of Americans would consider to be a joke. At that point, you can’t even counter the “lesser of two evils” argument with a majority of Americans. How we position ourselves and how we sell ourselves matters as much as anything when it comes to candidates…that’s been true since the first televised debates with Nixon vs. Kennedy.

The way to real change is to move everything to a more libertarian position. By selling our libertarian principles in a way that resonates with the American people. Things like ending foreign wars, shrinking the military, balancing the budget, legalizing marijuana, reducing police power, decreasing regulation, ending bailouts, reducing crony capitalism, etc. But we can’t do that by sticking to the hard-line. Slogans like “End the Fed” and “Taxation is Theft” while correct on principle, are lost on a majority of Americans.

I don’t consider libertarianism to be a joke and It shouldn’t be merely a protest vote. It’s something that I believe is the only thing that can save America from itself. It is possible to be principled and pragmatic so long as our end goals are the same. We need to be cognizant of how we present libertarian ideas to others in order to sell the party as a legitimate option. The rest of the time we can continue to argue amongst ourselves as is tradition. 😀