Saturday, December 22, 2007

Muth on Paul

Chuck Muth on Ron Paul as a presidential candidate-- now as a Libertarian within the Republican party, and perhaps in a few months, from within the Libertarian party-- and the potential future of the Libertarian and Republican parties...

Personally, one of my favorite Ronald Reagan quotes is this: "If you analyze it, I believe the very heart and soul of conservatism is libertarianism. The basis of conservatism is a desire for less government interference or less centralized authority or more individual freedom - and this is a pretty general description also of what libertarianism is. I think that libertarianism and conservatism are traveling the same path."

With the limited-government philosophy in mind, people coming across libertarianism for the first time often ask what the difference is between the two. The cynical answer, especially when you look at the last few years of GOP control of government, is that libertarians really believe it. That's why they refer to themselves as The Party of Principle.

Another thing the average voter doesn't usually know is that there are two political "libertarian" entities. There's the "small l" libertarian governing philosophy referenced by President Reagan, and the "big L" Libertarian Party.

The limited-government, leave-us-alone "small l" philosophy is clearly the one closest to the heart of Thomas Jefferson and the rest of the Founding Fathers - with the notable exception of Alexander Hamilton, the nation's first big-government liberal. There is much to recommend in said philosophy, and it's shared by many folks in varying degrees in both the Democrat and Republican parties.

On the other hand, there's the "big L" Libertarian Party (LP), the nation's oldest and largest third-party. Alas, the primary purpose of political parties - which, by the way, the Founders called "factions" and disdained with a passion - is to elect its members to political office. To that extent, the LP has been woefully unsuccessful at the ballot box in its 36 year history.

All of which could change this election cycle. Dramatically. Indeed, both the philosophy and the party are enjoying a bounty of riches as Democrats and Republicans continue running the country into the ground with their efforts to increase the size, scope and expense of the federal government.

Small "l" libertarianism as a philosophy is suddenly "cool," thanks in large part to the Republican presidential campaign of Congressman Ron Paul of Texas. And while Paul is currently a registered Republican running for the GOP presidential nomination, he is also a card-carrying member of the Libertarian Party - and was that party's presidential nominee back in 1988. Most voters don't realize you can be registered to vote with one of the two major parties, but also be a dues-paying member of the LP. Kinda like eating your cake and having it, too.

The most controversial issue surrounding Paul's campaign is his anti-war message, which many perceive as being dangerously naïve in this modern era of terrorism, jihad and dirty bombs. But even as you may disagree with him on Iraq, you can't help but acknowledge that his position is rooted squarely in line with the nation's first president, George Washington, who famously cautioned against involving ourselves in foreign entanglements.

Also, Paul's biggest problem with the "war" is that it's not really a war unless Congress fulfills its constitutional responsibility of declaring it a war. Congress has thus far ducked that responsibility. So let's not shoot the messenger....

Now here's where all this gets complicated for the Libertarian Party.

An important rule of Politics 101 is that you win races by addition, not subtraction. Whether identified as "conservative" or "libertarian," Republicans lost enough of the limited-government vote in 2006 to lose its governing majority. Deservedly so. To the extent that the Libertarian Party can pick up sizable chunks of that disenfranchised vote, it could enjoy ballot-box success at the presidential level in 2008 beyond its wildest expectations.

Those expectations aren't the same for the LP, however, as for the two main political parties. For the LP just snaring over one million popular votes in the presidential election nationwide would be unprecedented and a clear sign that they are finally making a difference in the minds of the electorate.

Yes, those million-plus votes could definitely result in swinging the race to Hillary (if nominated). But it's not the obligation of limited-government voters to vote against Hillary; it's the obligation of Hillary's GOP opponent to earn the support of limited-government voters. If the GOP candidate does so, he can win. If not, he could very well go down in flames next November, ushering in The Horror. And if the Arkansas Hill-Bill'ies return to the White House, don't blame the LP; blame the Republicans who blew off the "small l" libertarian vote and sent it to the Libertarian Party.

But how, pray tell, could the LP possibly exceed its historical track record at the polls next November? Simple. By nominating Ron Paul, again, to be its presidential nominee.

As Yogi Berra might say, while such consideration may be premature, it's not too early to think about. And the LP leadership is clearly thinking about it. Hard.

First, of course, Ron Paul would have to lose the Republican Party's nomination. Not much of a stretch there. I know it drives the Ron Paul crowd nuts when I say he's not going to win the nomination, but the problem isn't Ron Paul. The problem is the Republican Party primary voters. Way too many of them are, in fact, big-government "compassionate" conservatives who believe government can "do good" for the people as long as they're the ones running the government. That kind of thinking is what brought us things like No Child Left Behind.

On the other hand, Paul has raised a tidy amount of money for his presidential run....And he isn't spending it like, well, a drunken Republican or a Democrat. If his campaign continues to spend conservatively, if you'll pardon the pun, he could still have a sizable war chest at his disposal after Super-Duper Tuesday in February, when the GOP nomination could well be wrapped up.

At that point, Paul will have a tough choice to make. Will he continue campaigning for the already-decided GOP presidential nomination in order to continue getting his limited-government message out, or will he switch tracks and consider running again as the Libertarian Party candidate?

Indeed, that's a very real possibility since the LP provides another have-your-cake-and-eat-it-too opportunity here. While the Democrat and Republican nominees will probably be chosen in February, the Libertarian Party won't choose its nominee until May at their national convention. So even if he loses the GOP nomination, Ron Paul would still have the opportunity to pursue the LP nomination and thereby continue campaigning all the way through the general election.

Clearly, this should be attractive to Paul. After all, the man is no spring chicken. The reality is that this is his last presidential hurrah. After 2008, it will be time for Paul to turn the pro-liberty banner over to a new generation of candidates and activists. So taking his message all the way to November rather than hanging it up in February is not something he can dismiss easily. And the calls for him to do just that by the growing legions of Ron Paul supporters could prove to be too strong to resist.

Obtaining the Libertarian Party nomination for president this year would be good for Ron Paul, but it would also be extremely beneficial to the Libertarian Party and its future viability.

Never has the LP enjoyed having a nominee with such high public name recognition. Never has it had a candidate with such national real-life campaign experience. Never has it had a candidate with such credibility, rooted in Paul's long experience as an elected member of Congress. Never has it had a candidate capable of mobilizing such a huge army of grassroots supporters. And never has it had a candidate capable of raising as much money from small-dollar donors. A Ron Paul candidacy as the Libertarian Party nominee would be manna from heaven for the Libertarian Party.

In the past the Libertarian Party has acted much like the Republican Party under such circumstances, never blowing an opportunity to blow an opportunity. But the LP has "grown up" considerably in recent years and appears ready to "play the game" without compromising its philosophical principles.

The transformation started a few years ago when a guy named Joe Seehusen was hired as executive director of the Libertarian Party. Seehusen systematically began to do "political" things which the LP hierarchy had heretofore avoided like the plague. He started attending and even sponsoring various conservative events - such as the huge Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in DC - in an effort to elevate the LP's profile and image, showing folks that Libertarians weren't just a bunch of dope-smoking, open borders, hippie peaceniks. Joe's efforts bore much fruit; and Joe's successor, Shane Cory, has continued the successful outreach.

In addition, the LP recruited former Republican Congressman Bob Barr over to their side. Barr is now a member of the LP's national committee - and to a lot of Republicans, if someone with the "street cred" of Bob Barr can find a comfortable home in the LP, why not them? Convincing Barr to join their party was a major coup for the LP last year....

The problem for the LP is that Paul, at least at this time, is a registered Republican seeking the GOP nomination for president. And, well, it's just not generally allowed for one party to nominate as its candidate for president the candidate of another party. Especially when there are other candidates of their own party running for the nomination. It's just not done. However, exhibiting a high level of political maturity and street sense, the Libertarian National Committee last weekend unanimously adopted the following resolution:

"In the event that Republican primary voters select a candidate other than Congressman Paul in February of 2008, the Libertarian National Committee urges Congressman Ron Paul to seek the presidential nomination of the Libertarian Party to be decided in Denver, Colorado during the Memorial Day weekend of 2008."

Smart. Very smart.

But that presents another potential problem for the LP, and here's the Root of that problem.

The Libertarian Party already has an unusually charismatic and energetic leading candidate running for the party's presidential nomination this year. His name is Wayne Allyn Root, a very successful businessman, author ("Millionaire Republican"), sports handicapper and television personality. He's also a dynamic speaker who "wowed 'em" at this year's Conservative Leadership Conference in Nevada.

Root - one of those disenchanted former Republicans - is much younger than Ron Paul and represents the next generation of Libertarians and libertarians. Would the LP's invitation for Ron Paul to seek their party's nomination alienate their leading candidate already in the race? Nope.

In fact, in an exceptionally classy move, Root sent out a press release this week in which he stated that he "wholeheartedly supports" the LP's invitation for Ron Paul to join the Libertarian presidential race. "Libertarians believe in competition," Root wrote. "Just as in business, life and education, competition in politics brings out the best in all of us. Competition breeds success."


Root and Paul may have some disagreements on certain issues which deserve debate and discussion in an LP competitive nomination race. But in the end, the older, more experienced, better funded, better known Paul would likely win the presidential nomination. At which point, he and the party would be well-served in selecting Root as their vice presidential nominee. This would be a dynamic pro-liberty ticket, combining youth with experience, which would certainly capture the nation's attention, even if not the White House.

Such a ticket would expand and add to the LP's numbers, as well as give Root a level of experience at Paul's side which would prove politically invaluable for a future run. This is a golden opportunity to build not just their party, but their philosophy as well. And if the GOP doesn't get its limited-government act together soon, the party that replaced the Whigs could well end up going the way of the Whigs.

Not that there's anything wrong with that.


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