Election 2016: Finally a Real Third Way?

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As I write this column, the polls haven’t yet opened for “Super Tuesday.” By the time you read it, polling predicts that Donald Trump will have carried at least 12 of the 13 Republican primary and caucus states, the possible exception being Texas (which may go for Ted Cruz), and that Hillary Clinton will have won 10 of 12 Democratic contests (Bernie Sanders is expected to carry Vermont and Colorado).

If the polls are right, Trump and Clinton are, at this point, essentially unstoppable in pursuit of their parties’ presidential nominations.

Over the years I’ve become desensitized to the constant talk about how this or that election is “the most consequential of our lifetimes.” It’s usually just not true, because the “major party” candidates are usually as alike as peas in a pod.

But it may be true this year, precisely because the two candidates are as alike as Juan and Evita Peron.

Over the years I’ve also become desensitized to the constant talk about this being the year a “third party” finally breaks out, because as much as I’d like to believe that (I’m a long-time Libertarian Party activist), it’s also usually just not true.

But it may be true this year, because we seem to have hit bottom in our long slide into banana republicanism — the culmination of, among other things, George W. Bush’s “unitary executive” claims and Barack Obama’s “pen and phone” posturing.

The first step, as Alcoholics Anonymous points out, is admitting you have a problem. There’s certainly no denying that at this point. We seem to be at the point where America has two choices: Up, or out. We can pull ourselves up from our authoritarian funk, or we can finally tip ourselves over into the dustbin of history.

I’m not placing any bets on which way things will go in the here and now, although my money is on the dustbin option for the long term (I always bet with the odds).

It seems to me, however, that if there is ever going to be a libertarian moment in American politics, it has to come soon, and that this year is its best chance.

Since 1972, the Libertarian Party has consistently offered American voters their best shot at national resurgence and a new birth of freedom. We’ve been right on economics. We’ve been right on foreign policy. We’ve been right on immigration. We’ve been right on all the burning social issues.

But being right has never been enough. While hundreds of Libertarians have served and continue to serve in public office, we’ve never worked our way higher up the elective political ladder than state legislative seats. It’s always been easier for voters to just go with the flow, kick the can down the road, etc.

So, how’s that working out for you? The polls say not so well. Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton? If that’s not the bottom of the barrel, the barrel has no bottom.

Time to vote Libertarian. Or to quit pretending you care about your country.

Thomas L. Knapp (Twitter: @thomaslknapp) is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism (thegarrisoncenter.org). He lives and works in north central Florida.

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  • JdL

    Time to vote Libertarian. Or to quit pretending you care about your country.

    That makes as much sense as saying, “Time to stop voting, or quit pretending you care about your country.” It should be possible, I think, for the two camps (vote Libertarian and don’t vote) to refrain from hurling insults at each other. I last voted in 2000. It was like pulling teeth just to find out how many votes the Libertarian candidate got. Since then, I’ve been persuaded by those who argue that voting legitimizes an illegitimate institution. To vote, as that argument goes, means to accept and be bound by the outcome of the vote, whatever it is. On the other hand, I don’t excoriate those who do still choose to vote, especially if they vote Libertarian.

    It seems to me, however, that if there is ever going to be a libertarian moment in American politics, it has to come soon, and that this year is its best chance.

    Really? I think the Libertarian candidate will get less airtime this election than past ones have. Trump is an attention magnet; that’s the one thing no can dispute he excels in. He’s got everyone in the MSM dancing to his tune, whether they love or loathe him. I’ll be stunned if the Libertarian candidate gets more than a few hundred thousand votes, if that. But hey, I’ll freely admit I could be completely wrong. I hope you’re right, in fact.

    As for the “it has to come soon” part, I’m guessing you’re saying that it may become too late once things keep getting worse. Again I don’t agree. There is one and only one essential thing necessary to turn the U.S.’s decline around: a healthy percent of the populace realizing what needs to be done. This doesn’t always happen as a country sinks into tyranny, of course: frightened and confused people often turn to even bigger tyrants who promise salvation. But as things get worse, there will be a greater opportunity to open people’s minds to thinking what has been unthinkable to them in the past: that government is the problem, not the solution.

    Some countries continue as tyrannies even in the face of near-universal loathing, but they tend not to have an armed populace. Because Americans are armed, I’m hopeful we can pull off significant change once the understanding is in place, with little or no bloodshed.

    • JdL,

      I’m going to key in on one clause of your comment:

      “It should be possible, I think, for the two camps (vote Libertarian and don’t vote) to refrain from hurling insults at each other”

      I agree completely.

      Garrison Center columns are not addressed to principled non-voters.

      Garrison Center columns are not addressed to libertarians, nor are they addressed to partisan Libertarians.

      Garrison Center columns are addressed to a broad demographic — non-libertarian political opinion readers — who are largely non-Libertarian voters.

      When Garrison Center columns address elections and voting, they will likely take one of two tacks:

      1) Encouraging those voters to vote Libertarian; or

      2) Encouraging those voters to not vote.

      The reason I promote my columns to libertarians/Libertarians is not for the purpose of persuading them of anything. At least not usually. I promote my columns to libertarians/Libertarians because my columns are OUTREACH TO NON-LIBERTARIANS that I hope l/Libertarians will support.

      • JdL

        Right, I get that your column is aimed at non-libertarians. That’s a good thing, since preaching to the choir is fun, but it doesn’t advance much of anything. Perhaps I’m being over-sensitive, but the sentence that I lead my comment above with does seem (to me) to imply that people who don’t vote don’t care about their country. I promise I’ll stop harping about it now, however. 🙂 Thanks for all your work to advance liberty.

        • JdL,

          Don’t get me wrong — I understand exactly where you’re coming from. I took a four-year break from voting myself (and used my time working on anti-voting agitation).

          But that comment was definitely aimed at 1) voters, who 2) keep voting the same way and crying about the results.

          Sometimes I talk to them about giving up on voting.

          Other times I talk to them about voting less stupidly.

          I have an opinion on which is probably the wiser course, but I’m also a junkie for the circus that entails the more foolish one … so I try to turn my bad habit into something productive 😀