“Can two walk together, except they be agreed?” – Amos 3:3
With Super Tuesday behind us, and John McCain’s straight-razor express belching smoke with a new vigor, I think it’s time that we conservatives and libertarians were honest with ourselves: the Republican Party can no longer even nominally call itself the home of limited government ideals.
It’s dead, Jim. Stick a tag on its toe and wheel it down to the morgue. And given the way it treated Ron Paul, his ideals and his supporters, I say “Good riddance!”
For awhile, many of us thought that it might be revived. There was hopeful talk among conservatives and libertarians to the effect that, “The spirit of liberty isn’t totally gone yet in the GOP – we can still bring it back.” The patient was in critical condition but seemed to have a faint heartbeat (brain activity is another matter).
Well, I’m now convinced that the heartbeat we were listening to during all of that time was our own. It’s a situation akin to a doctor hovering over a deceased patient, but with the stethoscope pressed to his own chest, all the while muttering, “He’s still in there. I can save him!” We conservatives and libertarians were the heartbeat of liberty in the GOP all along, and it’s time that we realize this and leave the corpse to rot in peace.
But what options do we have if we leave?
Among existing third parties, the Libertarian and Constitution Parties seem the most congenial for homeless conservatives and libertarians of the Ron Paul persuasion; at least ideologically speaking. In reality, however, the Libertarian Party is sagging under the weight of negative perception baggage, and it never has seemed serious about winning elections; whereas the Constitution Party, for all of its commendable points, will probably never have broad enough appeal to be successful, due to the religious language in its platform (and I say that as a Christian).
Consequently, I think the best path forward for homeless Ron Paul revolutionaries is to form a new third party. Now I’m aware that this is not going to be a welcome idea in many quarters, due to the fact that third parties have become virtually synonymous with political futility and kookery. But Americans are unquestionably looking for alternatives, and I can’t help but wonder if perhaps all of those failed, previous efforts might not teach us something about how to do it right.
Here’s what I have in mind:
Past third party efforts have suffered from two primary ailments in this area: they have either limited their appeal by adhering to a narrow focus (a single issue or a small slate of issues), or they have simply offered the public a new form of statism, for which the Democrats and Republicans already serve in stellar capacity.
What is needed is a message that is different enough to set us apart from the major parties, and broad enough to draw support from virtually every political corner. For this, I suggest a two-sided approach to policy: federalism at home, and non-interventionism abroad.
My greatest disappointment with the Ron Paul campaign is that it has practically ignored the issue of federalism, which I think is critical, and which could have generated as much support for Dr. Paul as the war issue, if not more. In interview after interview and debate after debate, Dr. Paul consistently stated that he was in favor of “following the Constitution,” and that he wanted to roll the federal government back to its rightful place, but he never really explained what those things mean in a way that would resonate with average Americans. On most occasions, he simply didn’t have enough time, but I do think the issue could have been hit much harder than it was.
What I had hoped to hear during one of the debates was something like this:
“Americans are clearly not of one mind on every issue, so why should we have to live under the same laws? Imagine an
“Our founding fathers understood that not everyone wanted to live under the same laws. That’s why they crafted our Constitution so that the federal government had only certain, specific powers, and everything else was left up to the states, to be decided as their people saw fit. Today, though, politicians in
There is real dynamite in the message of federalism. It’s a simple, appealing idea. Show the blue staters how they can protect themselves against the red staters, and vice versa, and I think the argument will almost sell itself.
We all know that Americans are sick of the
To see more on how these principles could translate into a party platform, see the American Freedom Party.
2. Grassroots level outreach and growth
Third parties typically squander their meager resources on promoting long-shot presidential candidates, when they should be working to spread their message among average Americans instead. Think about it for a moment: when was the last time you saw a newspaper ad for the Libertarian Party, or heard a radio spot for the Constitution Party? When was the last time either of them canvassed your neighborhood and left material on your doorstep? Or set up a billboard in town? Or sponsored a rally?
Whatever the long-term results of the Ron Paul Revolution might prove to be, I think the most significant to date is that is has put tens of thousands of like-minded individuals in contact with one another, in meet-up groups and chat rooms from coast-to-coast. If a new party came together, these groups could quickly become its affiliates. They would be a tremendous basis upon which to continue to spread the message of peace and freedom, far more so than anything available to any existing third party…and they’re already present in every state.
Consider what such groups have already accomplished to date. Reflect on the millions of dollars this grassroots revolution has raised. Consider the effectiveness of our writing and telephone campaigns, of how we have repeatedly made the establishment squirm over the last few months. Rudy Giuliani couldn’t go anywhere without Ron Paul supporters heckling him; and Fox News will surely never regain the credibility (or the audience) it once had.
All of this with so little formal organization! To call it inspiring would be an understatement. Given the powerful forces arrayed against us, the progress we’ve made is nothing short of incredible; and we must not let that momentum slip away. By all indications, we have difficult times ahead of us. We’re going to need one another’s support if we’re to defend what is left of our freedom, and we’re going to need to be ready with answers on those occasions when the establishment falls on its face.
What about ballot access issues and getting into the debates?
Again, the meet-up groups scattered across the country are potential state affiliate parties, and I think they could organize and get enough signatures to obtain ballot access before the mid-term elections. They’ve already demonstrated that they can canvass effectively, so I don’t think that’s an unrealistic expectation at all.
Once ballot access is achieved, the key to maintaining it with the least amount of effort and expense will be to target the right elections, particularly those where a major party candidate is running unopposed. Third party candidates can pick up a lot of protest votes in such races. For instance, the Wyoming Libertarian Party was able to gain major party status a few years ago, due to just such a scenario.
We should also make it a goal to highlight the unfairness of current ballot access laws, and to press for change. A little pressure can go a long way, and, if anything, this movement has demonstrated that it can apply pressure and get results.
Where the presidential debates are concerned, the requirement is that a candidate be polling at 15% in order to be invited; and, truth be told, if we aren’t polling near that level, we probably shouldn’t be running anyone for president. The key there is to do our job at the grassroots level, working to spread the word and build the party to the point where we’ll have the numbers we need. Ross Perot was able to do this as recently as 1992. During the general election he received more votes than George Bush in Maine, and more than Bill Clinton in Utah, and might have done even better had he not dropped out of the race for a time (and if he had had a better Vice Presidential running mate).
What about the perception that third parties can’t win?
No mistake about it, this will be a public relations battle, and what needs to be emphasized is that anyone who wants change must be willing to work for it, and to take a chance on it: “We will never have change if we keep electing the same old people who will continue to do things the same old way,” etc. It should also be emphasized that this perception serves the interests of the major parties, both of which would like us to think that we can’t do without them. This point should be incorporated into the overall call for freedom from
What about how long it will take to build influence?
If we concentrate on getting the word out to the extent that we should, I think we’ll be surprised by how quickly we’ll grow. There are significant numbers of Americans that either do not vote or else have fallen out of the system; the Ron Paul campaign has demonstrated that these people are reachable and winnable. It has also demonstrated that
Finally, bear in mind that it will not be necessary for us to capture the White House or majorities in Congress in order to have influence. The more the merrier, of course, but votes in Congress are sometimes close enough that even a couple of congressmen or a single senator can wield considerable power. The same holds true with state legislatures.
What about the fact that so many Americans like statism just fine?
Unfortunately, many Americans do like statism, but the good news is that statists are divided into camps, and they don’t get along. Liberals tend to want to control our wallets, while conservatives would usually prefer to invade our bedrooms (when foreign countries aren’t available, anyway). These are generalizations, of course, but they’re reasonably accurate; and I believe that such differences present us with the very real potential of breaking up the cartel in
Under a return to federalism, states could make their own policies concerning issues like abortion, gay marriage, medical marijuana, etc., and the potential for this kind of freedom will appeal to both sides of the aisle. Some will use it to commit outrages against liberty, while others will use it to protect liberty. If, on the other hand, the federal government retains its current powers (and expands on them), the likelihood is that all we’re going to see is a continuous stream of outrages, and there will be no escaping them. For instance, under federalism, if
Thus the potential of what I’m suggesting here is the ability to better preserve our liberties by forcing statists to fight us for control of fifty state governments, rather than one national government. Additionally, as I pointed out under the “influence” question, we don’t necessarily need majorities to have an impact on the system. Every single person we send to an elected office has potential to obstruct the decay of our freedoms.
I started this article with a quote from the Old Testament book of Amos – “Can two walk together, except they be agreed?” It is evident that the friends of freedom can no longer pretend to walk in agreement with the GOP establishment. The party has set itself intractably against the Jeffersonian principles of non-interventionism, limited government, and individual liberty, and it has done everything in its power to silence contrary voices.
How much longer will we continue to allow the GOP elite to stymie us? In many ways, Ron Paul style conservatives and libertarians are already operating like a third party within the GOP. I’m suggesting that we just go ahead and make it official. We have the right message at the right time in history. The question is: do we have the vision and the will?
Even more fundamentally, given the enormity of what is at stake, do we have a choice?
"An army of principles will penetrate where an army of soldiers cannot...neither the Rhine, the Channel nor the ocean can avert its progress. It will march on the horizon of the world, and it will conquer." – Thomas Paine
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