Ron Paul has polled very well among independents, and many media outlets have reported the critical role of independents in this election, according to The Atlantic, which has provided the most thorough analysis. And while a large block of voters will simply go for their party’s candidate this year, economic fears and social moderation are attracting voters to libertarian ideas. The future of libertarianism, however, will be determined by its politicians’ ability to compromise.
Obama and Romney are both Harvard lawyers, deemed too moderate by their own parties and too radical by each other’s. Both sides fear the other candidate harbors a secret agenda he won’t reveal until after the election, but neither side expects anybody’s agenda will fix the economy. Perceptions aside, the two agree on TARP, the stimulus, a payroll tax cut, the GM Bailout and how to reform health care.
Libertarians, usually contrarians in this political climate, are definitely different. That’s not necessarily good, but it’s attractive to independents, many of whom are concerned more about the economy right now than social issues and are disillusioned with both parties.
Let’s envision the best case scenario for libertarians. Ron Paul makes some sort of splash in Tampa at the Republican National Convention, garners media attention, and throws up a small hurdle in the nomination process for Romney. Flash forward to the general election, and Libertarian Party candidate Gary Johnson performs as well as he is polling in western states, not necessarily winning any electoral votes but doing at least as well as Nader did in 2000. The losing party, probably the Republicans, will seek to better integrate not only their 2010 Tea Party contingent, but those voters who cost them states like Colorado and Nevada — just as the Democrats got greener after Nader’s showing in 2000.
The trouble is, libertarians are not generally known for their pliability. Libertarian idols Ayn Rand and Alan Moore’s Rorschach condemn compromise in the strongest terms, and Paulties are notoriously militant internet commenters. The number of lawyers and security guards at Republican primaries this year shows that translates in real life, too.
This matters because part of the reason independents are fed up with both parties is that they refuse to work together. (Keenan Thompson’s calls to “fix it” come to mind.) An intransigent third party would not only be ineffective, but it would not hold independents for long either. On the other hand, a stronger libertarian third party might also be hurt by working with Republicans, just as the Liberal Democrats have lost support in the UK for working with Conservatives.
Libertarianism has a strong future if its politicians decide to prioritize issues more attractive to Independents and then engage politically to achieve those ends. Repealing the Civil Rights Act, privatizing roads and returning to the gold standard are not politically tenable. But school vouchers, bringing the troops home, auditing the Fed, and drastically cutting spending are. Ron Paul may have earned his nickname of Dr. No in the House, but independents and many other voters prefer prescriptions to reproofs.