I grew up a classic liberal. I tended to think of myself as a liberal. I voted for Democrats, not exclusively but frequently. Things have changed, though.
Like many others, I don’t say simply that I left the Democrats, but rather, the Democrats left me. I didn’t leave the left. The left, left me. As a result, my views became increasingly identified, at least by others, as conservative. Eventually, because people weren’t really interested in a long-winded explanation, it became easier to simply agree. “Yes, I’m a conservative.” But that’s not quite true, either. Certainly, some of my views would be considered conservative by many people. Others would be considered quite liberal. Given my classic liberal views, why was I so reluctant (and I was very reluctant) to jump onto the libertarian wagon? My simple answer, is this: libertarian candidates have, in my view, tended to be people who did not need to walk about town without a keeper. Many of them have been, quite frankly, goofy or weird (in fact, I mentioned the need to not be weird in my previous post). I didn’t want to be associated with them. Still don’t, most of the time, but overall, it’s a better fit – I think.
While libertarians and the liberty movement are not exactly synonymous, many of the former are part of the latter. There are a lot of us out there and a lot of undeclared voters. So, why have we been, for years, so dramatically ineffective? The Tenth Amendment Center published an interesting article by Brian Roberts dealing with this. Entitled “A Tenther’s Marketing Plan,” it makes some interesting points. Of particular importance is Roberts’ thesis:
“Liberty efforts ultimately fail not because they reject establishment ideas, but because they continue to limit themselves to establishment-endorsed tactics.”
We moved a lot when I was a kid. Most years, we moved at least once. One result of so many moves was that I went to a lot of different schools. A related result was that I was frequently “the new kid” and, as a result, got in a fair number of fights with schoolyard bullies. For a short while, I bought into some pretty common ideas regarding fair fights, which included how, when and where. I got my butt kicked more than once, until my dad intervened by telling me a few things. First, he said “only a fool fights when there’s another choice.” Then, he told me there was no such thing as a “fair fight.” Finally, he told me “If you have to fight, you be the one to pick the time, place and method.” That is, I believe, very similar to Roberts’ point. Liberty movements fail because they have historically allowed the entrenched political powers to dictate the how, when and where.
What do classic liberals/libertarians really want? Sure, smaller government sounds good. “That government governs best which governs least” and all that. Fiscal responsibility sounds good, too. Those, though, are not the underlying things we want. What most of us really want, if we reduce things to their most basic form, is this: we want to be left alone. This has been the source of much of our difficulty. Real or “true” libertarians/classic liberals have no interest in telling others what to do, just as we have no interest in having others tell us what to do. We very much want to be left alone to “do our own thing.” The problem is that many of us feel this way so strongly that when we’re outside a system that compels us to comply, we have difficulty formulating a single, unified strategy and message. Getting libertarians to work together is very much like herding cats.
I once heard a man say that for many of us, our strengths and weaknesses are related. As and example of how this looks for libertarians, consider this: Progressives and conservatives (especially neocons) tend to make the following sorts of promises:
- “we will give you more (insert benefit or entitlement of your choice)”
- “we will protect you and the country from (insert foreign/terror threat)”
- “we will make sure you are treated fairly”
Libertarians don’t make those sorts of promises, not really. Essentially, what libertarians promise is “we will leave you alone.” While I happen to think that’s a fine promise and political platform, we need to ask ourselves a question. Do we really think that will sell as well, especially on a national level, as what the progressives and conservatives offer?
We are also hampered by two groups who claim to fall under the libertarian umbrella. The first group is comprised of people who refuse to endorse any person or plan that does not meet their standard of 100% ideological purity. Hey, if your goal is to continue to lose ever-increasing amounts of liberty and being able to whine about how things would change if only there was a candidate or party I could completely get behind, this is a great strategy because no candidate, no party and no platform ever measures up. On the other hand, if your goal is to be free, it sucks.
The second group is comprised of those who call themselves libertarians but who not only insist of some sort of ideological purity test, but who insist your issues and my issues must be the same. We can see this when we look at libertarians from small western towns. Many of them want the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) gone and out of their lives and states. That’s simply not an issue in Charlotte, NC where BLM probably stands for “Black Lives Matter.”
The truth is, none of us in the various liberty movements probably know anyone with whom we agree on how everything should be done, even in our own town or county. How likely, then, are we to agree on how everything should be on a national level? What’s the answer then? How do we deal with this lack of 100% agreement? I think the answer is simple, though not necessarily easy. We simply (see, I told you it was simple) accept and embrace the fact that liberty in Georgia might not be identical to liberty in Idaho, simply because the people in those states have some different issues and ideals. Sure, there are similarities, but that doesn’t mean their way of “doing” or experiencing liberty is going to be identical, and that really is okay. It is, in fact, more than okay. We need to do the not easy part of being classic liberals or libertarians or whatever you want to call yourself. We need to be able to answer the question “do you really support the right of other people to live however they want as long as they don’t interfere with the rights of others” with a loud and resounding “yes” – even when living however they want includes doing things to which I object or even find repugnant. We need to either embrace liberty for everyone or stop lying to ourselves and others.