Covering the Front and Back Pages of the Newspaper
August 3, 2003
POLITICS: The Libertarian Moment
For years now, libertarians have been promising us that they have a better way, superior to the two major parties. The blogosphere in particular is home to many, many well-known self-identified libertarians. And the Libertarian Party keeps telling us things like, "Don't be a sellout, vote your principles."
But all of this can be advocated from the safety of the sidelines, as true libertarians -- as opposed to libertarian-leaning Republicans -- are rarely in any danger of assuming substantial public office. No longer. Because we now have the ideal situation brewing in California for a libertarian to assume the governorship of the nation's largest state, one that's suffering terribly from an addiction to Big Government, and prove that a libertarian can actually govern.
The recall in California, especially if there's a crowded ballot, will present the ideal conditions for a third-party run: a candidate with a well-honed message could win the race with just 15-20% of the vote. The Democrats have yet to put a major, big-name alternative candidate on the ballot, and the Republicans may split the vote between conservatives like Bill Simon and more liberal GOP candidates like Richard Riordan (it remains to be seen if Ah-nold will jump into the race this week, but if he doesn't, the field remains more open).
The Republican dilemma in California has, for some time, been based on two problems. First, the GOP's social conservatism, on issues like abortion, has been a major handicap; pro-lifers may be popular in most of the country, but not California. Second, lingering bitterness over Proposition 187 and other divisive issues -- some of it unfairly, but for these purposes that's beside the point -- has made it nearly impossible for the GOP to reach not only the ever-growing Latino community, but many moderate white and Asian-American voters as well, who have bought into the Davis machine's rhetoric about the "right-wing" menace.
A libertarian candidate could overcome these obstacles. There'd be other problems, of course: You'd need to pick just one candidate; you'd need someone who's got some name recognition from business, show biz or some other field; you'd probably need a candidate who could fund much of his or her candidacy, in the absence of an established libertarian fundraising network.
And you'd have to be practical. Instead of calling for repeal of the drug laws, focus more narrowly on fighting the Justice Department's position on medical marijuana and advocate more limited reductions in some drug laws and penalties. Offer other ways to cut back government that go deeper than GOP remedies without getting locked into debates about privatizing the fire department. A libertarian would have the burden of proving that he or she could actually go to Sacramento and get something done.
But if it can't be done in California now -- when the state Democrats are thoroughly discredited, the GOP is divided and not entirely innocent of the whole mess, and the electorate is irate -- it can't be done. It's the libertarians' moment -- will they take it?