Monday, May 09, 2016

The Libertarian Party's Sugar High Problem


I'm not going to attribute this quote because I've probably seen a hundred versions of it in the past week:

If we want any chance of attracting social conservatives, Austin [Petersen] is that chance.

Immediate disclaimer/follow-up: I'm not trying to pick on Austin Petersen in particular as a candidate, or social conservatives as a targeted demographic here. The versions I'm seeing vary in both candidate and demographic prescriptions. It's the general approach and the problem with that approach that I am concerned with here.

What is the Libertarian Party's purpose and mission? Here's a quick -- but as we shall see, not dispositive -- crib from our bylaws:

The Party is organized to implement and give voice to the principles embodied in the Statement of Principles by: functioning as a libertarian political entity separate and distinct from all other political parties or movements; moving public policy in a libertarian direction by building a political party that elects Libertarians to public office; chartering affiliate parties throughout the United States and promoting their growth and activities; nominating candidates for President and Vice-President of the United States, and supporting Party and affiliate party candidates for political office; and, entering into public information activities.

A significant faction within the party holds that its sole and overriding purpose/mission should be "winning elections." Some even insist, contra the actual bylaws above, the the LP's sole and overriding purpose/mission IS "winning elections." While I disagree with that faction, I'm not going to argue the point here, because whether one hews to the bylaws purposes or the "winning elections" idea ...

OBSESSING OVER LIKELY APPEAL TO PARTICULAR NON-LIBERTARIAN VOTER DEMOGRAPHICS IN A SINGLE ELECTION DOES NOT SERVE THE PARTY'S PURPOSES

If we want to "win elections" -- or succeed at any of those other things in the bylaws over the long term -- we will have to do so by attracting and/or creating libertarians and recruiting them to support the Libertarian Party and its candidates.

Please do not read the above to mean that I oppose the idea of social conservatives, anti-war progressives or left-handed Asian-American lesbian amputees voting for Libertarian candidates. I don't. I welcome their votes and their support in any given election cycle or for that matter all election cycles.

But to the extent that the party or its candidates thinks in terms of attracting votes from those demographics in a particular election instead of in terms of attracting and/or creating libertarians and recruiting them to support the Libertarian Party and its candidates, those prospective votes are just a sugar high, not an advancement toward our goals. Those demographics aren't going to stick with the LP and its candidates over the years except to the extent that we sell them on OUR goals. Just temporarily catering to their temporary dissatisfactions isn't enough.

If the Libertarian nominee for president gets 5 million votes from social conservatives this November, those votes will not directly, in and of themselves, advance the party so much as a millimeter toward its goals because libertarians aren't social conservatives and are therefore not going to appeal to social conservatism long-term. If social conservative votes advance us indirectly, it will only be to the extent that they help us generate publicity to attract and/or create libertarians and recruit them to support the Libertarian Party and its candidates on an ongoing basis.

Which is why, when choosing a presidential nominee, we should be thinking about how well that nominee presents our ideas so as to attract and/or create libertarians and recruit them to support the Libertarian Party and its candidates instead of worrying about whether or not that candidate might happen to appeal to social conservatives, anti-war progressives or left-handed Asian-American lesbian amputees in a way that might produce a satisfying but irrelevant mini-vote-boost in this particular election.

Selah.

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