Thursday, January 17, 2008

The Libertarian Party Should Become a Voter Block Brokerage Organization

I would like to bring a crucial point about strategy to the attention of Ron Paul voters, libertarians and especially members of the Libertarian Party. The LP might reconsider its three-decade old strategy and adopt an interest group approach that worked well for the Mugwumps, or independent Republicans, in the 19th century.

David Tucker has written an excellent book on the Mugwumps. The name Mugwumps comes from a term that Algonquin Indians used for young chieftain. They were upper-class north easterners, many of whom had been abolitionists. Many died just before World War I, and their last major battle involved opposition to US imperialism and the Spanish-American War, which the early progressive-liberals, such as Theodore Roosevelt, supported.

The Mugwumps were the first industrial age libertarian movement. The chief issues with which the Mugwumps were concerned were:

1. Sound money and reestablishment of a pure gold standard
2. Free trade
3. Elimination of corruption from government by establishment of civil service

The Mugwumps have not always received favorable press from left-wing historians. In spirit, they were the American branch of the anti-Corn Law movement of Cobden and Bright. Several of them corresponded with John Stuart Mill.

1. The Mugwumps constituted a smaller percentage of the population than the Libertarian Party reflects today, but their effect on American politics was much larger than the combined Libertarian and conservative movements of the past 40 years.
2. It is true that the Mugwumps had far greater media support, namely Harper's Weekly, the Nation, the New York Post and the New York Times as well as several other publications than today's libertarians.
3. In that period, voters were more committed to party-line voting than today, so although the Mugwumps could leverage greater publicity, their ability to influence voting was smaller as a percentage of the vote than the Libertarian Party's today. If you add Ron Paul's Republican followers, then the total number of today's libertarians would be many times greater than the votes that the Mugwumps could leverage
4. The Mugwumps ran separate presidential candidates only twice: Horace Greeley in 1872 and John M. Palmer in 1896.
5. The Mugwumps' greatest success came in 1884, when they refused to back the Republican candidate, James Blaine, and instead backed the hard money, free trade Democrat Grover Cleveland.
6. Because the race in New York was decided by less than one percent, some credited them with winning the 1884 election for Cleveland.
7. They saw many of their ideas accepted. These included official de-politicization of the money supply; free trade and reduction of the tariff; and the civil service.
8. They failed circa 1900 because economists trained in the German historical school came to dominate university economics departments, depriving them of universities' imprimatur, and because of widespread support for imperialism in the 1890s. Imperialism and government economic intervention were more attractive to turn of the century Americans, especially the generation born after the Civil War. The loss of academia to the progressive-liberals caused the Mugwumps to die. They have been largely forgotten because of the loss of continuity, but they were prominent in my grandfather's lifetime.
9. The Mugwumps were repeatedly successful when they brokered between the political parties and served as a special interest group. They were repeated failures when they ran third party candidates.

The Libertarian Party has served an important educational function since the 1970s in education in the principles of free markets and civil freedom. Although classical liberalism has numerically and percentage-wise a greater base now than it did in 1884, it has not succeeded anywhere near as much as the 19th century movement succeeded. The problem has been tactical.

The Mugwumps believed that the Republicans were the "party of principle", but they were willing to broker deals to support either party, as they did with the Democratic candidacy of Grover Cleveland. They did this because in their view the Republicans failed to live up to its promise and did not support liberal principle following the Civil War.

Conservatives and libertarians today have been dismayed at the choices that the mainstream parties present. But with five to ten percent of the vote, and possibly more, believers in classical liberalism constitute a powerful voting block.

The Libertarian Party is making a mistake by not offering compromise deals to the major parties, and going with the better of the two (not necessarily one or the other).

The Mugwumps were able to leverage say 100,000 votes by brokering between parties. There is no reason why classical liberals, libertarians and free market conservatives, who may represent 20 to 45 million votes, cannot do the same.

Partisan support for the Republicans and/or the third party approach has failed. The time has come for a change in strategy.

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