Election Day 2009 has come and gone. Relatively speaking, this election was as insignificant as any off-year election is, as opposed to a mid-term election, but it still could have been an important year for the Libertarian Party, if we had simply bothered to show up. There were six elections / ballot initiatives which could have possibly been affected by the Libertarian Party… if we actually had a long-term strategic plan. As it is, some things happened for which it is notable that the LP had no role in. In no particular order, let’s look at where we could have had real impacts this year.
Governor’s Race – New Jersey: New Jersey voters tossed out their incumbent Democratic Governor, Corizine, in favor of Republican Chris Christie. It may have happened because Corizine is very unpopular with the citizens of his government-corruption prone state .While Christie’s election is not necessarily a bad thing, what made this election notable was that it swung on independent voters. Christie won 49% of the vote, Corizine won 44% and independent candidate Chris Dagget walked away with 5% of the vote.
Governor’s Race – Virginia: Republican candidate, Bob McConnell, with 60% of the vote, easily won election over his Democratic opponent, Creigh Deeds. For over 35 years, Virginians have consistently voted into office Governors of the opposition party to that of a sitting President, so this win might have seemed inevitable. What made this race notable for the LP is that it was again the independent voters who made the difference. In 2008, Virginia bucked its own tradition of voting for Republican presidential candidates and, instead, voted for Democratic candidate Obama. In that case, Obama won because Virginia’s independent voters were pretty evenly split between Obama and McCain. This year, however, independent voters were 2 – 1 in favor of McConnell and we can see the results from that quite easily.
Mayor’s Race – New York: In this race, Independent candidate Michael Bloomberg won a very narrow victory against his Democratic opponent, the essentially unknown City Comptroller. The name of the Democratic candidate is not important. What is important is that even with spending approximately $100,000,000 (yes, 100 million) dollars of his own money, Bloomberg only won 51% of the total vote, only 5 points ahead of his Democratic opponent. This will be Bloomberg’s third term, which was only possible because he supported changes to New York City’s term limit law, which had limited mayors to only being able to be elected for two terms. A strong Libertarian presence could have raised the term-limit issue by speaking strongly for them.
House of Representatives Race – New York’s 23rd District: What can be said here that hasn’t already been said? In what was probably the most noteworthy race of 2009? For the first time in over 150 years, this district will not be represented by a Republican. The story is remarkable. The Republican Party chose Dede Scozzafava, an NRA-approved candidate who also was pro-choice and in favor of same-sex marriage. The Democratic Party chose an un-noteworthy sacrificial lamb, Bill Owens, because the New York state House has a one person majority and they didn’t want to risk losing that majority by running their state Representative in an “unwinnable” race. So what happened? The far-right stepped in and ran their own Conservative Party candidate, Doug Hoffman, against Scozzafava. Why? Because she wasn’t conservative enough to satisfy far-right extremists, like Sarah Palin and Dick Armey. I think that this race was probably the most important this year because for what it signifies. The extreme far-right conservatives are not interested in Republican Party loyalty, they put political ideology above all else. Hoffman had no knowledge of or concern for “his” district’s local issues, he didn’t even live in that district In a move reminiscent of the worst examples of the “rotten boroughs” in British politics before the 20th century, the national leaders in the far-right conservative movement found someone whose only “qualification” was the purity of his ideology. Don’t worry though, if Hoffman HAD won, he promised that he would move into the District he would then be representing. Scozzafava eventually pulled out of the race and put her support behind the Democratic candidate. The extreme conservatives didn’t simply put their own candidate in a roll to beat the Republican candidate; they chased a loyal Republican out of the Republican Party, itself. In the end, enough loyal Republicans still voted for her that Conservative Hoffman lost. The final tally? 49% to 45% to 6%. I told you, folks… they’re eating their own.
This race, more than any other, demonstrates the collectivist desires of the extreme far-right conservatives… Local issues are not important to them; they want nothing less than to fill Congress with extreme conservative political ideologues who will put the desires of the conservative movement above every other consideration. Ideological purity is their litmus test, and having elected officials who will do the bidding of political masters instead of serving the needs of their constituents is a model for a one-party state with a collectivist government. We have seen such systems before and, trust me; their loyalty is NOT to their constituents… it is to their party. The far-right conservative extremist movement is trying to lead America down a very dangerous road.
In addition to these for elections, there were two ballot initiates that need to also be included in our summary. The first of these was the vote to overturn the law which passed the Maine legislature that made same-sex marriage legal in Maine. Drawing an immense amount of support from OUTSIDE the state, the conservatives managed to overturn that law by garnering 53% of the public vote to repeal it. The other ballot initiative we need to make note of was the approval in Breckenridge, Colorado of a law which decriminalizes all personal possession of one-ounce or less of marijuana. State and federal laws are still in place but for the first time, a city has stood up and said “it isn’t worth the government fighting to enforce those laws”. And who was responsible for this victory? If you said the Libertarian Party, you would be completely wrong. The organization that was responsible for getting 71% of the voters to approve that law was the modestly named ‘Sensible Colorado’… 71 freaking percent of the voters approved this and the LP had no hand in (and, thus, get no credit for) this win. Both of these initiatives were about personal freedom, personal MORAL freedom. If we, as Libertarians, are not the ones who can stand up for the side of freedom, then who the hell needs us?
So, what lessons should the LP learn from these elections? A couple of things. One is that being an extreme far-right, conservative neo-Republican party will not win for us. Those people are not disaffected, they are simply scared. They have their own machine and we would simply get swallowed entirely by them… and good-bye to the Libertarian Party. Another lesson is that independents really do matter. They might not be enough to win an election on their own, but that can certainly swing an election. In these elections we can all see the importance of a liberal movement. If we can mobilize it, we can win. The moderates, independents and liberals who turned out in numbers sufficient to elect Obama last year are the unmotivated and disaffected pool of voters we can turn to. There is power there, strength that is simply waiting to be utilized.
The Republicans are feeling elated about winning the two governor’s races this year. They are patting themselves on the back by seeing importance on the wrong victories. While governors might be the Chief Executives in their state, they have no role in formulating national legislation. The two House elections this year, both of which were won by the Democratic candidates, are much more significant in the larger picture of current American politics. What this says about the 2010 election possibilities is fascinating.
Candidates in reliable Republican districts will now be facing primary challenges from the far-right if they are not seen as being ideologically pure enough. Why is that important? Remember center-left Republican Senator Lincoln Chaffee of Rhode Island? He had to spend most of what he had in his campaign war chest to beat a far-right Republican opponent for the Party’s nomination. After the primary fight, he didn’t have enough money left to effectively campaign for the Senate seat, itself, and he lost to the Democratic nominee. We can look for more of this in 2010 as big money from national figures fighting for their far-right agenda will flood into the coffers of Republican candidates who aren’t seen as being conservatively pure. Any primaries in which the far-right challenger looses will leave the winner with little or no money to campaign for the actual seat or office in question.
Since Obama’s election a year ago, he has turned this country’s very active liberal base into an unmotivated “lost generation” looking for someone to give them hope. THAT is where our future lies. WE need to be the ones who can break the American liberals out of their ennui, to rally and mobilized the untapped political power they represent. THEY are the people who can make or break elections. Those people are looking for leadership and hope. Now is the time to bring back Ed Clark’s Libertarian movement. Now is when we need his “low-tax liberals” to rise up again and take the Libertarian Party back from the neo-Republicans. In every one of the elections I have mentioned here, WE could have made a difference, we could have made ourselves known again to the general public, we could have been leaders… and, to be politically viable, our future rest with being able to harness the unfocused liberalism which Obama has let wither away. The conservative extremists are destroying the Republican Party and the Democratic Party is showing itself to be incapable of leadership. There are holes being torn in American politics and, as nature abhors a vacuum, those holes WILL be filled. What we have to ask ourselves is, can we the party that fills those holes?
Since 1984, the LP has driven itself to an extreme end of the American political spectrum, an end that is mostly allied with the extreme far-right. That is not what first attracted the general public to the idea of libertarianism. It was the combination of the ideas of fiscal responsibility AND liberal social policies that first put the LP on the lips of the American people. Both the Republicans and the Democrats parties are moving farther and deeper into their own ideological extremes. I believe that any two-party system is going to naturally gravitate between polar opposites. The reason that it is important for America to also have a centrist party is because there needs to be a party that can comfortably welcome people from the right, left and middle. What makes the Libertarian party important is not conservative or liberal politics; it is our view of the role and function of government. What we oppose is authoritarianism. Personally, I am pretty far to the left while the political figure I know and admire the most is pretty far to the right; I believe that some government is necessary and she is an anarchist. Where we find commonality is our shared belief that neither the Republican nor the Democratic Party are serving the American people. THAT is why we both share a belief in libertarian philosophy, and the day that we can get both my moderate right Republican father and my independent green (liberal AND vegetarian) sister to vote for our candidates is the day that we will know that we have arrived.
Rhys M. Blavier
“Truth, Justice and Honor… but, above all, Honor”
© Copyright 2009 by Rhys M. Blavier