Identity Crisis: So who exactly are the Libertarians?

Over the course of the 2010 campaign season, the question most asked of me personally by voters was a seemingly simple one:

“What do you stand for?”

The “you” in this context meant the Staten Island Libertarian Party (SILP) and our candidates in particular, or alternatively, the Libertarian movement at large. Our chapter’s boilerplate reply, crafted by committee for accuracy and consensus, was equally simple:

“Limited government, personal liberty, free markets, and state’s rights.”

Indeed, our positions on these issues constitute key planks of the SILP platform. All pretty straightforward stuff.

Further, it’s reasonably certain that Libertarians universally embrace the first two pillars noted above. The national Libertarian Party (LP), which bills itself as the ‘Party of Principle,’ has it distilled down to this mantra: ‘minimum government, maximum freedom.’

Kinda catchy, right? You’d think so.

Yet among the hundreds of New Yorkers with whom I spoke, and who claimed to have some insight into Libertarian philosophy, the pendulum of perception regarding Libertarianism swings wildly, from a party of right-wing extremists, to one of far-left anarchists. (A similar affliction confounds watchers of the Patriot/Tea Party movement, but that’s another op-ed for another time.)

After 40 years, one wonders if the Libertarian Party still struggles to define itself in this world of three-second sound bites. Or maybe the electorate is just hopelessly hardwired for 2-party tyranny. After all, conventional punditry has long proclaimed that a third-party vote is a wasted vote. Worse still, they insist, it is a “spoiler” vote that will only throw the election to the enemy (whoever that is…).

Whatever the reasons, all manner of misconceptions and misnomers abound regarding Libertarians and their beliefs; prominent media outlets, slanted all across the political spectrum, can’t seem to get it right with any regularity.

We’ve also found that the name Libertarian itself can cause something of a misdirect. Many voters make that phonetical leap of logic that Libertarian = Liberal. While there is some genuine basis of truth in that, there is one significant exception.

It is classical liberalism to which we pay homage. Modern liberalism? Not so much. The term was hijacked long ago. Many of the policies now associated with self-styled social liberals lie 180-degrees from the original tenet and meaning of liberalism. Of course, the exact same thing can be said for many so-called conservatives, who profess (with a straight face) to be today’s champions of small government and individual rights.

So much for principle.

To some extent our current case of mistaken identity is self-inflicted. Like any large national party (reportedly the largest independent), we have our own undeniable factions. A veteran New York state LP member once advised that ‘getting Libertarians to agree on anything is like herding cats.’

Not surprisingly, our public persona (as well our political unity) is vulnerable to far-flung chapters with competing interests, brought about through disparate geo-cultural values, social-driven agendas, and myriad policy emphases. And they don’t always align neatly. Yes, even in the great State of New York.

I will argue that this is as it should be, insomuch that Liberty teaches individualism and self-determination. It also preaches tolerance of, and respect for, different political and ideological points of view.

But in the marketing parlance that is endemic in modern politics, it becomes difficult to uniformly promote a “brand” when the “product” is inconsistent across the marketplace. And so it follows that in an army of independent thinkers, there is going to be a lot of inconsistency.

So, you may ask, what then are we selling?

What are the ‘Principles’ that drive the Staten Island Libertarian Party?

Let me quickly remind that I do not necessarily represent the views of the national LP mother ship, nor our friends in Manhattan, Greater Rochester, and Hudson Valley et al. Neither do I speak here for my Staten Island member colleagues; they rather excel in doing that themselves.

The following notes, then, are simply my own observations of the dominant themes in the year since I began working with this remarkable group of patriots:

Our extremely knowledgeable membership holds a deep, abiding respect for the Founders of this country, and the well-documented Originalist intent of our United States Constitution. We would do well not to forget that our liberties have other protections, too, in the Constitution of the State of New York.

We are determined to hold accountable all transgressors of said constitutions, with special days of reckoning reserved for elected officials, as they have sworn an oath to uphold them.

Taxed Enough Already. We witnessed with total astonishment an unprecedented fiscal recklessness in the wake of a near-catastrophic economic collapse. And this on the heels of an already unprecedented build-up of debt during two wars. Is it their plan to see this nation insolvent?  Is it possible to return to pre-Great Society levels in federal spending.

In New York we need hard caps on taxes; property, income, and sales. But then also cut and cap state and municipal spending.

Our discussions on sound money principles and fiscal restraint are epic, and alone worth the price of admission. [btw, meetings are free; membership is only $20 per year]

Speaking of monetary policies, exactly who are these unelected, unaccountable persons at the Federal Reserve, and what exactly are they doing with our dollars? With whom? And why? Demand transparency.

We are for private enterprise. We know what makes America run, and who creates real jobs of opportunity and advancement. And it ain’t the government.

We advocate the removal the job-killing restrictions and business-crushing regulations that stifle the entrepreneurial spirit, and stagnate our district’s economic recovery.

There are strategic opportunities right now to attract new employers to this district, too. Incentivize companies. Reinstate business credits. Address the area’s transportation needs by opening up to private competition.

Fiercely anti-statist. From table salt to salty language, small farms to firearms. Quite simply, ‘don’t tread on me.’ Let’s neuter the nanny state. We are a Sovereign People.

We support State’s Rights. The needs and desires of New Yorkers are as different from those in Iowa as they are in California. Have we not yet learned that one-size federal legislation does not fit all? We are not the United States of America, but these United States.

Likewise, the needs and desires of Staten Island are as different from Fire Island as they are from Rikers Island. Government that governs best is local.

The neo-federalists may not enumerate which products we must purchase, and then penalize our families should we choose not to comply. Exactly what part of the Tenth Amendment does this central government gang not understand?

The U.S. Department of State does not have permission to sign global treaties with world bodies, which ultimately compromises the national sovereignty of the People. For the record, neither does the president.

Nor does the United Nations have permission to pass judgment on our sovereign states’ laws; dictate how we raise our children; control the trade of private firearms; or allocate the amount of carbon exhaled on this planet.

No more foreign entanglements; military, financial, political, or otherwise. We’ve got enough challenges right here at home.

Education reform. The current framework is definitely not what Thomas Jefferson had in mind when he advocated a public system of education for our children.

Empowerment before entitlement. Let us foster prosperity and self-worth through personal independence. And work to eliminate government dependence, and the indifference and indignity that flow from it.

Why does a term limits law that New Yorkers overwhelmingly approved in 2010 not go into effect until 2021? Are 34 incumbents really that special that the law should not apply to them?

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These are just some of the topics discussed at our monthly assemblies. I think it is a fair snapshot (albeit through my lens) of what is important to the Staten Island Libertarian Party membership, and the neighbors that have visited with us.

Again, I encourage you to please read our party’s platform so you can get a better sense of where we stand. Maybe you’ll even decide to stand with us.

Better yet, swing by one of our Liberty Tree Town Halls for a firsthand look at what we’re doing, and then decide for yourself. This, too, is as it should be.

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“Rightful liberty is unobstructed action according to our will within limits drawn around us by the equal rights of others.”

[For further reading on classical liberalism, here are other links from Stanford and the Mises Institute.]

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3 Comments.

  1. Thanks for doing this Ed. :cool:

    I found in the course of my campaign that very few people knew about Libertarianism, and those that thought they did were woefully misinformed, usually either assuming I was on the extreme far Right or Left of the political spectrum.

    Doubtless this will prove useful in helping to clear up many misconceptions about ourselves, and Libertarians in general.

  2. Thanks, Dave, it’s a start. Please feel free to add anything I’ve overlooked.

    The same invitation applies to any and all readers out there! Questions and clarifications also welcome.

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