Monday, May 26, 2008

Libertarian Party Bids for Relevance

Former Republican congressman Bob Barr has just won the battle for the Libertarian Party nominee for president in 2008. The Libertarian Party typically harvests about 1% of the vote every four years.

Barr's prominent name probably assures a result closer to 2% than 1% come November. The only realistic role this year is to spoil the possible election of Republican John McCain by siphoning votes in key states. As such, Barr can expect a windfall of coverage from the mainstream media unseen by any previous Libertarian candidate.

The Libertarian nominee for vice president is Wayne Allyn Root, a sports handicapping expert based in Las Vegas. Root is another political defector, having written a book called Millionaire Republican. Libertarian activists have criticized his nomination on the grounds he isn't a "traditional" libertarian and sounds like a used car salesman. In reality, Root was a smart pick, the best available, because, just like Barr, he isn't "damaged political goods" like so many of his rivals--Mary Ruwart, for example. He can appeal to the majority of normal Americans because he isn't a traditional Libertarian kook. This party can present two responsible people on the political stage, not that that will count for much in the results column.

And that is the significance of the 2008 Libertarian Party Convention. A person with a fringe mentality didn't win either of the top two spots. So now the question to be answered in the years ahead is this: is 2008 a watershed year in which the Libertarians finally realize the futility of championing fringe people and causes and move toward their natural place in the center of the political spectrum, or was 2008 nothing more than a temporary aberration to be "corrected" in 2012?

The Democrat Party owns the Left. The Republican Party owns the Right. The only room for a major third party is the Center, and that makes sense for the Libertarian Party since it draws from both sides. The ideal role would be as watchdog over the other two parties, alerting the voters when they both step too far away from the Constitution or responsible governance. It sounds strange today: the Libertarian Party as a voice of reason!

The Barr/Root ticket is a step toward this ultimate political goal of achieving relevance and its natural place in American politics, if the Libertarians of the future want it.