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Does the LP help or hinder liberty?

Posted by Richard on December 20, 2006

Last week, former Republican Congressman Bob Barr switched to the Libertarian Party. He not only joined the LP, he immediately became a Life Member and a leader, joining the Libertarian National Committee as Region 4 (Southeast) representative. Barr told Reason that he left the GOP for the LP in order to save the Constitution and preserve liberty:

I chose to join the Libertarian Party because at this time in our nation’s history, it’s fundamentally essential to join a party, work with a party, that’s 100 percent committed to protecting liberty. As great as the Republican Party is — and I have been fortunate to work with that party for many years and still have the highest regard for it — the Constitution is under such assault in this day and age. In order to have any chance of saving the Constitution and our civil liberties, we need a party dedicated to that cause.

Bruce Bartlett thinks Barr made a terrible mistake. According to Bartlett, joining the LP actually hurts the cause of liberty instead of helping it. His opinion of the party and the effect it has on the political debate isn’t kind:

Over the years, I have known a great many people who have flirted with the Libertarian Party, but were ultimately turned off by its political impotence and immaturity. C-SPAN runs Libertarian conventions, and viewers can see for themselves how unserious and childish they are. They show that the Libertarian Party is essentially a high-school-level debating club where only one question is ever debated — who is the purest libertarian, and what is the purest libertarian position?

At times, serious people have tried to get control of the Libertarian Party and make it a viable organization. But in the end, the crazies who like the party just as it is have always run them off. In the process, however, they have also run off millions of voters who have supported libertarian candidates at one time or another. After realizing what a waste of time the Libertarian Party is, many became disengaged from politics and don’t vote at all.

The result has been that libertarian-leaning activists have been drawn away from the Republican Party and the Democratic Party by the Libertarian Party, leaving the major parties with fewer libertarians. In other words, both major parties have fewer libertarians than they would without the Libertarian Party, meaning that the net result of the party has been to make our government less libertarian than it would otherwise be.

Bartlett wants the LP to disappear completely and be replaced by an advocacy group like the NRA, complete with lobbyists, advertising, and focused campaign contributions. I’m not entirely persuaded, but I must admit that in the last few years, I’ve focused my attention — and money — on organizations like Cato, the Institute for Justice, and the Club for Growth, not the LP.

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