Monday, September 27, 2010

So, what does Libertarian mean, anyway?

The presence of a third party candidate in a political campaign always creates an exciting dynamic, and the big question is always: “Who will he take votes from?”

In the case of the current race for the 85th District, I had assumed that the Libertarian would siphon votes from the Republican. Both are “no new taxes” hawks, both sleep with the Second Amendment under their pillows and both have repeatedly expressed their admiration for Ronald Reagan. However, last weekend made me question my assumptions, and made me ask: “What is a Libertarian, anyway?” My assumptions were questioned because of the things I observed at two events on Saturday, 9/25/10 – the Selinsgrove Street Fair and the Merrill Linn Conservancy fundraiser at Reptiland.

To my dismay, I saw a lot of young college-student-looking people and a few people of color walking around wearing the button or sticker of the Libertarian at the street fair. Yes, he teaches at the college in Selinsgrove and serves on the Selinsgrove Borough Council, but still I was surprised to see so many young people wearing his badge. Even more surprising was the reception he seemed to receive at the Conservancy fundraiser that night – I have known many of the attendees for many years, and I have done nothing but support conservation efforts my whole life, both as a private citizen and as an elected official. On one hand it hurt my feelings, but on the other, bigger hand, it alarmed me about the sentiment of the voters.

Now, having run for state office twice I will freely confess that I have no idea what the voters want from their candidates. My strong suspicion is that they want someone from their own party who they can stomach, despite the constant refrain you hear that “I vote the candidate, not the party.” However, there aren’t that many registered Libertarians around here, so that theory doesn’t hold water in this case.

We have heard a lot about how voters are disgusted by both parties and are looking for a change, but honestly? A single third party legislator bringing change in a 203 member assembly? Electing a Democrat from a Republican district would be as big (or bigger) a change, and said Democrat would have a chance to caucus with other Democrats and perhaps actually bring about some of this desired change.

Thinking about caucuses brought me to the question asked of the Libertarian candidate by my Lewisburg Borough Council colleague, Mike Molesevich, at last week’s Borough Council meeting: “If you want to run as an Independent, why be part of any party at all?” To which the Libertarian replied, “Good question.” Then he went on to describe the benefits of being part of a larger group, and to explain that people are joiners. But this weekend’s events have made me wonder if people understand who he has chosen to join. I would think that the conservationists would be interested to know that Libertarians believe that “Free markets and property rights stimulate the technological innovations and behavioral changes required to protect our environment and ecosystems.” Can anyone say Exxon Valdez followed thirty years later by Deepwater Horizon?

I also would expect that college students would be interested to know that Libertarians “…call for the… abolishment of… all federal programs and services not required under the U.S. Constitution.” Bye-bye, PELL grant and federally subsidized student loan.

I would think that EVERYONE would be interested to know that “Libertarians would phase out the current government-sponsored Social Security system and transition to a private voluntary system.”

But wait: the Libertarian candidate has expressed many areas where he says he does not agree with the Libertarian Party. For instance, he’s said that he is a big fan of Ronald Reagan, although a 62% majority of Libertarians answered the question “How should Libertarians deal with the myth that Ronald Reagan reduced government?” with the answer “Libertarians should point out that Reagan grew government.”

He’s also said things like, “Obviously, there are some places where government has a positive role to play,” but he’s been pretty vague about where those places are. All of which brings me back to my initial question: So, what does Libertarian mean, anyway?

Don’t get me wrong – the Libertarian candidate is pleasant and likable, and I bet he’d be a lot of fun with a few beers in him, but given his performance in this campaign I’m thinking Libertarian might mean “the liberty to say anything you want that will make a voter respond positively to your candidacy.”

As the person they're being asked to vote against, I hope that people will look past the pleasant demeanor to see what it is they’re being asked to vote for. To get a better idea for yourself, check out the Libertarian Party website at

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