The Libertarian Effect
- Below is a repost from the RealClearPolitics Blog. I've been reading
a lot about the Libertarian "swing vote" lately and thought this
article offered some interesting comment.
The Libertarian Effect
by ROSS KAMINSKY
November 13, 2006
In one closely watched Congressional race (Sodrel v Hill, IN-9) and
two critical Senate races (Missouri and Montana), the Republican
candidate was defeated by fewer votes than the Libertarian candidate
[Note: the last data I could find on the Missouri race still had two
of the 3746 precincts to report, so it is possible that statement
isn't true for Missouri, but if it is not true it is still very close
and does not diminish my point.]
In other words, in these two critical Senate races and if the
Republican had gotten the Libertarian's votes, the Republican would
For the rest of this article, please recognize that I am speaking of
the small-"l" libertarian, and not the Libertarian Party of the
candidates mentioned above. A "libertarian", in the shortest
definition I can muster, is someone who is fiscally conservative and
socially liberal. In other words, it is someone who wants the
government to perform a very small set of legitimate functions and
otherwise leave us alone.
I can hardly contain my glee at seeing this happen after years of
hoping it would. And in such dramatic fashion, with such important
results. I did not hope it would because I wanted Republicans to
lose, but because the Republicans had become corrupted (by which I do
not mean corrupt in the typical sense.) They became enamored of
power, and believed that they could get away with expanding the size,
intrusiveness, and cost of government as long as they had government
aim for "conservative" goals rather than liberal ones. This loss, and
the way it happened, was the best thing that could have happened for
Americans who care about a government focused on limited government
No, the Democrats are not that government. They believe in anything
but limited government, and they only believe in liberty in one's
personal life, but not in one's economic life. In a sense, Democrats
believe that the citizens work for the government.
Republicans on the other hand have acted in just the opposite way:
they believe in economic liberty and they know we do not work for
government. But they do not believe in personal liberty. The failure
of the strategery of the Republicans, to focus on "the base" by
trotting out social issues such as the South Dakota no-exception
abortion ban (which lost, I'm pleased to say) demonstrated two
things: First, social issues do not have long coat-tails. Second, the
GOP base is fiscal conservatives more than it is social conservatives.
Fiscal conservatives, even more than social conservatives, were the
demotivated voting block. Fiscal conservatives who are not socially
conservative, i.e. voters who are libertarian even if they don't know
it or wouldn't identify themselves that way, were the key swing vote
in this election and were the reason that the GOP lost Congress...the
Senate in particular.
In a recent study called "The Libertarian Vote", David Boaz (Cato
Institute) and David Kirby (America's Future Foundation) discuss the
growing number of American libertarians, the growing dissatisfaction
among them (including me) with the GOP, and the continuing shift in
voting patterns caused by that dissatisfaction. Tuesday held the
obvious conclusion of this shift.
The party which went from reforming welfare to banning internet
gambling by sticking the ban inside a port security bill, the party
which went from Social Security reform to trying to amend the Federal
Constitution to prevent gay marriage, the party which went from
controlling the size and scope of government to banning horse meat
became a party which libertarians and Republicans alike could not
The Democrats are a disaster, though they probably realize they need
to move to the center. The Republicans have just been taught a brutal
lesson that they also need to move to the center (on social issues)
and back to fundamental principles of our Founders on issues of
economics and basic liberties. No party can rely on the unappealing
nature of their opponent to be a strong enough motivation to win
elections, nor should we let them win if being just a bit better than
the other guys is all they aspire to.
What I love about libertarian voters is that they vote on principle,
not on party. The GOP might not like it, but politics should not be
about blind loyalty if your party has lost its way. So, I disagree
with suggestions that libertarians are fickle and unreliable voters.
Instead the Republicans became an unreliable party. The Democrats on
the other hand are extremely reliable -- they will always raise
spending and taxes, get government involved where it doesn't belong.
But other than the tax cuts of several years ago, the Republicans
have been no different other than choosing different areas of our
lives to intrude upon.
I hope that the result of the Libertarian Effect, particularly on the
GOP, will be that the next election may provide us an opportunity to
replace this batch of Democrat placeholders with Congressmen who not
only have read the Constitution, but respect it. Congressmen who
understand that Republican voters do not elect politicians to have
them impose their (or our) morality on the people, but rather to keep
government from interfering in our lives and leaving us, in the
immortal words of Milton Friedman, "Free to Choose".