Monday, May 05, 2008

Excerpt and notes: Cargo Cult Libertarians


This is part of an article I wrote some years ago, the rest of which is trapped in the bowels of a mySQL database that used to run an obsolete version of one of my sites. I'm posting it here because I intend to refer to it in comments elsewhere.

Excerpt:

The cargo cults are religions (or something resembling religions) which took root in South Pacific Islands after WWII. Observing that Westerners had such amenities as refrigerators, air conditioners, etc., and that Westerners were brought shiny new things by airplanes, the cargo cultists hypothesized a connection. They built elaborate replicas of technological devices -- refrigerators of wood and bamboo which looked exactly like the Kenmore[TM] in your kitchen, in the hopes that, if they looked and acted enough like Westerners, the airplanes would arrive with shiny new stuff for them. Yes, this is an over-simplification, but it'll do for the point I’m trying to make.

Cargo Cult Libertarians observe that successful Republican and Democrat politicans wear suits and power ties, that successful Republican and Democrat politicians exude confidence, that successful Republican and Democrat politicians shy from the radical, and that successful Republican and Democrat politicians take a smooth, milquetoast, middle of the road, "well, Bob" approach in media interviews.

From this, they hypothesize that if they, as Libertarians, wear suits and power ties, exude confidence, shy from the radical, and take a smooth, milquetoast, middle of the road, "well, Bob" approach in media interviews and public appearances, that they will magically become successful Libertarian politicians.

Needless to say, it doesn't work that way. Voters who want cuddly, well-dressed, moderate, confidence-exuding, "well Bob" politicians already have them. We call them Republicans and Democrats. The LP's future, if it has one, lies precisely with those Americans who sense a need for a radical, in your face, "well, Bob, fuck the conventional wisdom" alternative.


Notes:

While I still think the above is solid, I also believe I drew some erroneous conclusions from it at the time. To clarify: I don't have anything against suits, power ties, confidence or smooth rhetorical delivery per se.

What I do have a problem with is the idea that any of those things trump, or can be usefully substituted for, libertarianism in a libertarian campaign.

I don't believe that libertarian ideas can only succeed if they're disguised and smuggled in rather than openly advocated. I don't believe that libertarian ideas can be implemented in the real world by jettisoning them at the first hint of controversy.

And I sure as hell don't believe that the Libertarian Party should submit to extortion on the part of Cargo Cultists whose main threat is "if you don't ditch your libertarian presidential candidates and nominate a Cargo Cultist, we'll .... TALK ABOUT LIBERTARIANISM!" Just because Cargo Cultists find libertarianism embarrassing and controversial, that doesn't mean that the rest of us do too.

Now, granted, my strong preference this year is to run a "mainstream" campaign for Congress, focusing on issues that American voters care about and that large numbers of American voters tend toward the libertarian side of: Ending the war on Iraq, cutting taxes, repealing the USA PATRIOT ACT, ending marriage apartheid, etc. Not non-libertarian ideas, but rather the libertarian ideas that are most likely to elicit a positive response. Leading with your most timely and popular positions just makes sense.

But ... I don't negotiate with terrorists. When the Cargo Cultists tell me that if my party doesn't nominate one of their ilk for president they'll spend the summer and fall hyping the issues they find embarrassing, my reaction is simple: Go for it, and right back at ya.

To put it a different way:

- If the Libertarian Party nominates a libertarian (Steve Kubby or Mary Ruwart, for example) for president, I'll happily spend the summer and fall campaigning on ending the war on Iraq, cutting taxes, repealing the USA PATRIOT ACT, ending marriage apartheid, etc., exactly as I expect that presidential candidate will.

- If, on the other hand, the Libertarian Party nominates one of the Cargo Cultists' preferred candidates [bolded material edited after initial publication] (Wayne Allyn Root or Bob Barr, for example) for president, I may just forego my own campaign aspirations and instead spend my time promoting the presidential campaign ... by circulating brochures featuring private ownership of nukes and legal heroin for six-year-olds.

Go ahead. Try me.

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