If we agree on those things, then there’s a final bridge to get across: We need to realize that libertarians are not the only political group, and that we don’t have to shoulder the burdens of the other, competing groups. One of our objectives is reasonably affordable, &c. health care. As libertarians, our means for achieving that goal is reducing the size, power and scope of government. That’s the means for achieving all of our goals, because it’s the only means we have “” it is the essence of our political movement. Lots of groups seek reasonably affordable, &c. health care by other means “¦ but if we use their means, then we cease to be what we are and become what they are.
This is not, of course, limited to healthcare. But let’s use the healthcare example because it’s the one at hand. Outside of Tim West, I don’t know too many libertarians who have serious philosophical issues with the typical free market approach to healthcare. Pragmatists like myself tend to accept the futility of getting a free market system at this stage, and are content to suggest compromise proposals that move towards liberty… but we still agree that the free market system is ideal.
But what’s going to work? Because that, ultimately, is the biggest question of pragmatism-not what’s philosophically pure, not what’s the best incremental compromise, but what will work. In this case, what will work to get Libertarians elected, and what will work to actually advance liberty.
Clearly the majority of the party is against socialist healthcare. But how to make a difference? Take a steadfast stand against it, or try to influence the powerbrokers in Washington to make it suck less? A majority of Americans want socialist healthcare, so it’s likely that we’ll have it in twenty years. The Democrats can’t get their shit together NOW, but they’ll have it together in twenty years, and they’ll be supporting socialist healthcare. Do we try to change that 65% who want socialist healthcare or do we try to turn them towards our purposes?
20 years of Libertarian failures has conclusively shown us that “educating the voters” doesn’t work. But will taking an unpopular stand work anyway? Such stands can gain us respect, if not agreement, from the majority of voters. It can also mobilize our base-which is the purists. For all the naughty things I’ve ever said about purists, they are most likely our strongest donor and activist base into at least the near future. And honestly, except for the tinfoiled minority, most of these purists are not opposed to political success. While this isn’t an asset locally, in national races we can concentrate our efforts on one campaign, a la Michael Badnarik-and the majority of our support for those races will be coming from the base.
On the other hand, all the money and activism in the world means nothing if the voters consider you batshit insane, a la Pat Buchanan in 2000. The guy raised about 1/4th of the money that the majors did, got… decidedly less than 1/4th of the votes. But then again, most voters aren’t theocratic blowhards. Now, Buchanan was in the Reform Party, not the LP-but the principles are the same. Stray too far from the mainstream of the electorate and you’re never getting elected above dogcatcher. Some embrace of pragmatism is also necessary.
So there quite clearly needs to be a balance here. We’re seeing that the majors are doing both incrementalism and purity as well; it all depends on the area. A pragmatic Republican would welcome the government to take his gun from his cold, dead fingers in Montana, but would welcome the government to take everyone else’s guns as soon as possible in Manhattan. A pragmatic Democrat is for the war in Nebraska and against it in California. They’re doing quite well for themselves with this system… perhaps we ought to learn from them?
In liberty’s strongest areas, it might be possible, perhaps even preferable, to run on purity and win. I’m primarily thinking New Hampshire here, but it could also work for *most* issues in the West. The idea is that we’d have a strong enough “base” to compete with the bases of the other parties, so long as we can fire them up. You see the Republicans doing this with thethey’re trotting out.
In other areas, we’re going to need pragmatism in spades. Having lived in Maryland, I know that Kevin Zeese’s views on socialist healthcare are the best deal we’re gonna get for liberty there. The fact is that we’re going to have to win people over to liberty one step at a time in a place like that. People who like us except for socialist healthcare will take a look at the Zeese campaign and think “well, maybe they’re not so bad.” We open the door and start scoring political successes, become a political force and people that wouldn’t even listen to purity are now willing to consider it. The good news is that this model is currently succeeding in Indiana, where moderate libertarians are being radicalized while still welcoming newbies who might be libertarian on most, but not all, issues.
Ultimately, though, we have to realize as a party that one size is not going to fit all here. But why would it? A party that believes in states’ rights for government ought to believe in states’ rights for its own self. Incrementalism on gun control simply will not fly in Idaho, just like free market healthcare won’t fly in Maryland. We need a national party that’s flexible enough to fit both purists and incrementalists into its tent, and more than we need purists or incrementalists, we need pragmatists, people who know their district and know how to get elected there. We also need a platform that can accommodate all these goals, and a party more tolerant of different shades of “libertarian,” especially the lighter shades.