Thursday, December 04, 2008

Multiple freedom parties?

Brian Holtz says the idea is dumb, and offers nine reasons why. Here are my responses to those reasons:

Having multiple liberty-oriented choices tells voters that libertarianism is too incoherent to be worth understanding.

Depending on how a single party presents its message or otherwise comports itself in the electoral arena, it could very well tell voters exactly the same thing. And in that case a second party of the same type could be the antidote by presenting a coherent message/comportment where the first one has failed to do so.

Of course, coherence in message, comportment, etc. are subjective evaluations. In the judgment of some, the Libertarian Party failed on coherence of message in 2006 when it deleted 3/4 of its platform (leading to the creation of the Boston Tea Party) and on comportment in 2008 when it nominated a recently-Republican presidential slate topped by a "true conservative" (leading to the Boston Tea Party's decision to run a presidential slate of its own).

Having multiple liberty-oriented choices tells voters that the freedom movement is too poorly organized to be worth supporting.

Only if by "organized" one means "operated under strict discipline from a central headquarters." If by "organized" one means "constructed for efficient operations," then the newer of the two US freedom parties excelled the older in this election cycle.

The Boston Tea Party decided to run a presidential slate in late May. Less than a month after that, it had nominated that slate and placed it on the ballot in Colorado. Within another sixty days, it had placed that slate on the ballot in Florida and Tennessee. By election day, it had procured non-trivial media coverage (including but not limited to a Fox News Sunday interview, an Associated Press feature and the cover story of a large city weekly) for that slate.

To put a finer point on it, in five months the BTP re-created in principle, although not to scale, the organizational prowess which the LP had spent nearly four decades building and which it allowed to disintegrate in 2008, flubbing ballot access through organizational incompetence in no fewer than four states.

To put an even finer point on it, had the LP been the lone freedom party in this election cycle, the freedom movement would have had no example of proper organization to show voters, but only an example of poor organization.

Having multiple liberty-oriented choices vastly increases the cognitive/investigative burden imposed on a voter asked to cast her single vote for liberty.

This claim relies on an unsupported assumption: That the voter in question recognizes an "investigative burden" at all. Many voters don't, either because they are fully vested in the "major party" contest through a long process of indoctrination and are simply not interested in alternatives, or because they consider it the parties' job to reach them, not their job to investigate the parties.

In the latter case, it is not obvious that multiple freedom parties are a detriment.

For one thing, a donor dollar or volunteer hour is not necessarily fungible between freedom parties -- it may be that that dollar or hour would never be made available to Freedom Party A, even if Freedom Party B did not exist.

For another, not all investments are equal, and if Freedom Party B makes different investments of the dollars and hours made available to it than Freedom Party A would have, it may be heard of, investigated and supported by voters who never hear of Freedom Party A, and wouldn't even if Freedom Party A had that same dollar or hour at its disposal.

Having multiple liberty-oriented choices tells politicians that pro-freedom voters are far from being a coherent caucus whose votes can be earned (e.g. by the party not running an opposing candidate).

Even if were that case that pro-freedom voters are a coherent caucus in that sense (and the evidence says we're not), that's not necessarily the message. Voters who are willing to move between parties at all have various reasons for doing so. If two pro-gun parties run candidates against an anti-gun candidate of another party, this still sends the message to the anti-gun candidate's party that there are votes possibly available to it if it runs a pro-gun candidate next time. If there's a difference, it's a difference in impression of just how many of those votes are actually available, and how many of them are committed to one of those other parties regardless.

Getting liberty-oriented candidates on the ballot requires a threshold amount of signatures/fees.

Once again, this assumes some kind of internal movement fungibility of funds and support -- that if Party B did not exist, its donors and petition signers would automatically make their money and signatures available to Party A. That's simply not the case, at least not universally.

It also assumes a scarcity that's not necessarily present in all jurisdictions. In some jurisdictions, a voter may sign only one candidate/party ballot access petition. In other jurisdictions, no such limits exist.

Getting a liberty-oriented party ballot-qualified requires a threshold amount of voter registration and/or votes in statewide races.

I'll stipulate to this one with reservations.

Yes, it may be that the existence of two freedom parties will, in some jurisdictions, damage the ability of either of those freedom parties to achieve/maintain ballot access.

On the other hand, if there are significant differences of opinion between Freedom Party A and Freedom Party B, I don't see how it's the obligation of one to dissolve for the purpose of facilitating ballot access for the other, any more than it's the obligation of an anti-freedom party (for example, the GOP) to dissolve just so that there are more registrants/voters available to a freedom party.

American elections generally do not allow fusion voting.

That's true -- but it doesn't seem like a good argument against multiple freedom parties. Quite the opposite in fact.

Seeking fusion opportunities where they don't currently exist is a matter of building larger numbers of voters who demand it and activists who are willing to participate in initiative/referendum or legislative lobbying efforts to make it possible.

Generally, two organizations of the same type will boast a larger total membership than a single such organization would have. In the case of the two US freedom parties, there are some LP members who would not be members of the BTP even if the LP didn't exist, and vice versa. If one of those two parties went out of existence, the size of the organized political wing of the freedom movement would decrease, not increase, because some of the members of each organization are not interested in being involved in the other. That means fewer voters organized in support of fusion and fewer activists to make the effort to get fusion.

American elections do not allow approval voting, but instead uses plurality voting.

True (in most cases), but the situation is no different between freedom parties than it is between other types of parties.

Politics is a contest. If Freedom Party A is frustrated in its quest for electoral victory by the existence of a resolute Freedom Party B voter bloc, then its remedy is convince Freedom Party B's voters that Freedom Party A offers them a better package than Freedom Party B.

And let's face facts -- in the current circumstance, Freedom Party B (the Boston Tea Party) is not standing between Freedom Party A (the Libertarian Party) and victory. Even in the states where the BTP presidential slate made the ballot this year, its vote total did not prevent the LP's presidential slate from carrying those states.

Duverger’s Law suggests the natural tactical response of voters to plurality voting is to gather into two parties straddling the political center along its major axis, or into one party for each natural cluster of voters in the political space.

I'm glad Holtz brought up Duverger's Law so that I didn't have to. It's the single best argument for multiple freedom parties. Since the effect of plurality voting is to create two groups of voters straddling the center, and since the center is not pro-freedom, the center needs to be moved.

It's going to take a radical party to move the center in a pro-freedom direction, but that radical party is unlikely to become a home for the more moderate voters straddling that new center. Therefore at least two parties (one radical, one more moderate) and possibly three (if the center is moved far enough) will be required. Historically, for example, see the emergence of the (moderate) Republican Party after the heavy lifting was done by the radical (Free Soil, Liberty, etc.) parties; or the more social-democratic-leaning (moderate) Democratic Party under pressure from the (radical) socialist parties.

Ultimately, I think the best case for multiple freedom parties is that a party with an uncontested monopoly in a political niche is a recipe for inefficiency and inefficacy. The monopoly party settles into a comfort zone and starts to lean less toward effective external action and more toward distributing what small bounties it collects from the movement around it as internal patronage. That's been the history of the Libertarian Party since at least the early 1990s and possibly earlier. Competition tends to either destroy such a monopoly party or else focus that party on excelling its upstart competitors in the areas that matter.

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