Hors d'oeuvre: a Libertarian in the Lion's Den
August 28, 2008 by Paul McKeever
Over at the Western Standard’s blog, it has been announced that the Libertarian Party of Canada’s newly-chosen leader has announced he will run against Prime Minister Stephen Harper, the leader of the Conservative Party of Canada, in his Alberta riding of Calgary Southwest. Readers of my blog will know that I am not a libertarian and that I oppose libertarianism. However, because I do not believe a party can succeed in facilitating a freer society by bringing together people who oppose each other on matters of metaphysics, epistemology, or ethics, I do not hesitate to share my opinion on this matter publicly. In other words: I do not think this advice will help the libertarian movement, because nothing will, so I feel no need to keep quiet about the Libertarian Party leader’s decision.
In my view, choosing to run in Stephen Harper’s riding is a mistake if the Libertarian leader expects thereby to boost his vote count. Party loyalists (of just about any big-box political party) like to believe that were things only different (e.g., were they to have a majority), their party would advocate different policies. And, although such hope is usually unjustified, they are more likely to come out and vote for their party if they think there is the slightest chance that someone is trying to horn-in on the “right-wing” action. If the Libertarian runs in Calgary, and takes the approach that he is the capitalist that Harper is not right now, I expect he will get stomped like a narc at a biker rally, electorally.
No matter where he intends to run, the better approach for the Libertarian leader – if he hopes to maximize his vote count – would be to campaign against the Conservatives on Libertarian positions that are not the same as positions thought to be Conservative (i.e., to campaign as a liberal on anti-libertarian Conservative policies), and to campaign against the Liberals on things that nobody, in Alberta (except, perhaps, someone with a large trust fund) could want whether Liberal or Conservative. For example, if the Libertarian Party of Canada is pacifistic – and many of its members are sure to be – it would be easier to get votes by campaigning against military participation in Afghanistan while campaigning against the oil-sector-victimizing, Alberta-milking, Liberal carbon tax.
However, almost any advice one could give to a Libertarian candidate will be of little importance at the end of the day because, in reality, the vast majority of voters do not vote according to policy. Here’s how it will happen, in every riding, amongst the vast majority of voters.
- They will wake up on election day and say to themselves “well, I’d better figure out who I’m voting for”.
- They will not base their decision upon the parties’ election platforms: they will not read the election platforms.
- The radio and television news will not say much about polls etc. on election day, so those sources will be largely useless. They will turn to friends, family and colleagues if they turn to any source of information at all.
- But, in all likelihood, they will simply ask themselves whether the Harper government is causing them more grief than they are willing to suffer any longer. If so, they will vote Liberal not because of what the Liberals are promising to do or not to do, but because voting Liberal increases the chances that the Conservatives will cease to be the government. If not, they will vote Conservative, and give it no more thought. For the vast majority of voters, it’s really that simple.
Poll after poll demonstrates that the most important factor in determining whether a party is elected is: its size. A person who wants the government to stay in power just votes to reelect the government. A person who wants the government out of power will vote for the biggest alternative party – the party with the greatest chance of knocking the governing party out of power. For those who are sufficiently wanting to change the government, if the biggest alternative party is the communists, the communists will get the vote; if it’s the capitalists, the capitalists will get the vote; if it’s the Nazis, the Nazis will get the vote. In short: most people do not vote for a party not in power, they vote against a party that is in power; they vote not for policies, but against them.
The Libertarians do not enter the running because virtually nobody believes they stand a chance of dislodging Conservatives. Only Liberals, NDP, or Bloc candidates (depending upon the riding) are currently thought of as having the power to knock-out a Conservative MP.
The right approach for any party with no (current) chance of electoral success is to (a) contrast itself with the parties that win seats (so that people gain awareness of the existence and nature of the small party), and (b) to attack, relentlessly, the party that parades around falsely claiming to be the voice of the ideology that the small party really does endorse. For example, the right approach for the Green Party right now is not to co-operate with the Liberal Party (as it has been doing), but to torpedo the Liberal Party. Expose every lie. Expose every ambiguity and equivocation. Expose every bad judgment. And do not be afraid to call a liar, a fake, or a moron a liar, a fake, or a moron, respectively. Until the faux-green Liberals are undone, the truly-Greens have little if any chance of replacing them.
At the end of the day, all countries are two-party countries and the reason for that fact is: people vote against, not for. They are looking for a big hammer, not a good idea.