Friday, July 29, 2011

Getting real

Over on Facebook, an interesting discussion has taken place on my friend Bill Yarbrough's wall about how (or whether) the Libertarian Party should interact with the Tea Party. The struggle in the Party is between those who would insist on absolute fidelity to the Party Platform in all decisions, and those who understand that (as my Republican political mentor, Robert E. Levitt* put it) "the purpose of the ... Party is to elect candidates." In other words, we need to be faithful to our values, but understand that, in politics, our values are a destination. Decisions made by Libertarian officeholders will fall short of the Platform's goals, but the Libertarian must be held accountable for bringing us closer to them.

Bill, who has the virtue of being both a Libertarian and a realist, puts it this way:
I agree the country and state are not ready for a third party - and they don't have to be. The Libertarian brand simply has to overcome obscurity to the point that one really good candidate wins one prominant U.S. House seat. That should be ...the focus - one winnable race of note. From there, the sky's the limit. The LP needs to sink all its money into a winnable race before the [realists] of the world will find us worth their time.
A political party that cannot elect candidates is useless. On the other hand, neither of our major parties appear to be grounded in principle, even though many of their candidates and officeholders are personally so grounded.

On the Tea Party side, there is complete agreement on where we need to go -- and total confusion as to how to get there. Some Tea Partiers are libertarians who want less government across the board, but others are conservatives who embrace the social constraints and militarism favored by many Republicans. Because many of the most visible supporters of the Tea Party are Republicans, there is a perception that the Tea Partiers are nothing but GOP hacks. Part of this confusion stems from the amorphousness of the Tea Party. The Tea Parties and related organizations stem from many roots. As Bill Yarbrough observed, to properly judge a Tea Party, one has to look at each individual local organization.

Leadership and members in both movements need to understand that candidates and officeholders can only work with the legislation as it is. Legislators can amend bills and try to persuade others toward our Platform goals -- but they can only vote on what is in front of them.

Thomas Sowell reminds us of this reality in today's Townhall:
One of the good things about the Tea Party movement is that it resisted the temptation to actually form a third political party, which has been an exercise in futility, time and time again, under the American electoral system.

But, if the Tea Party movement within the Republican Party becomes just a rule-or-ruin minority, then they might just as well have formed a separate third party and gone on to oblivion.
It is not in the interest, either of the Tea Party or of the people, to insist that Congressmen or state legislators commit political suicide in support of a long-range goal. For example, I agree that Congress should take a hard line both against raising the debt limit and raising tax rates; but if we don't completely balance the budget, we are not sacrificing our principles. We are still moving toward our goals. We are preparing Congress and the people for a greater victory later on. The point is, that victory will not come until we take the intermediate steps.

On a personal note, Mr. Sowell also explains why I should not run for office:
Writers can advocate things that have no chance at the moment, for their very writing about those things persuasively can make them possible at some future date. But to adopt the same approach as an elected member of Congress risks losing both the present and the future.
* Robert E. Levitt (1926-1997) was a Republican state representative and longtime chairman of the Stark County Republican Party. I worked as his executive director 1978-1982, where I got quite an education in political reality.

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