Selling Libertarianism: What You’re Doing Wrong

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In almost every aspect of our lives we experience change. Whether it’s our homes, where we live, what we do, or what we are interested in, we grow up and things evolve in accordance to our circumstances. However, some things can’t change.

Our instinct, as creatures, forbids us to mold ourselves into things we cannot be, or do not want to be. Our conscience, if it pulls hard enough, keeps us on the right path.

There is also instinct that we follow, which is a part of being human. Some traits stand out stronger in different people, but there is one trait that all humans universally possess; it’s what built and destroyed civilizations, bringing entire societies crashing to the ground.

We want to be free!

From the times of nomads and cavemen all the way to the present day, humans have longed to be free. Whether it is freedom of thought, exploration, staying out past 11 PM, or just being able to cut a piece of pie without big brother looking in on you! Freedom, at least in some form, is what we all want.

So, it is no surprise that freedom has been an overarching factor in philosophy and politics for generations. It is what America was founded upon, and it is now considered a human right.

Classical liberalism (credited for being the basis of many democratic movements in the West) is the biggest building block in American politics; Indeed, it’s an even bigger factor than race or religion.

My point is that freedom will always be a massive part of the soul: therefore, political movements like libertarianism and anarchism will always have potential.

This is why I believe libertarianism has the tools to be a dominant movement in American politics – if marketed right.

Marketing is everything. In politics, it’s the difference between being a US congressional representative, and being a 45-year-old full-time ‘volunteer ‘at the local county GOP headquarters.

If you allow yourself to be portrayed in a negative way – you lose – It is that simple.

If Democrats and Republicans have full power over the brush that’s painting the portrait of you, be assured that they will market the painting as well.

Anonymous. www.imgflip.com
Anonymous. www.imgflip.com

Here’s why Gary Johnson, who was was once polling at roughly 13%, had it all squandered away: he failed at marketing himself properly.

Now, I can’t exactly blame anyone, including poor Gary. The reason I can’t blame anyone is because 2016 was a baby-step. Libertarians have never been in the spotlight to this degree before, and it showed.

Between “ What is Aleppo? “ and Gary’s apparent inability to name a single head of state, he was written off as a dumb has-been with particularly odd political positions. Gary Johnson is far from dumb, but that didn’t exactly matter when election night hit.

The 2016 elections brought up a major roadblock libertarianism has struggled with for years: that is the image that the party is basically a bunch of pot smoking, shotgun owning, 25 year old’s with ‘ Ron Paul 2012 ‘ bumper stickers on their trucks (which they are using to haul cement from Home Depot to build their backyard bunker).

That, mixed with Gary Johnson’s gaffes, created a bad tasting recipe. That said, Libertarians made extreme gains in 2016, for that, I’ll give him credit. Governor Johnson garnered more votes than any other Libertarian presidential candidate in history.

The hope is there, despite everything I mentioned. Libertarians still spoke to millions of Americans, and made history. Which further proves my point that people in general are attracted to freedom in some form, and in America, it happens to be in politics.

2016 wasn’t your golden year, it was your training.

2020, or 2024 can be the presidential elections that end the two-party system – If you can successfully transform yourselves, from a GOP-knock off, to a genuine movement, with separate ideas and clear positions.

How do you change a 50-year-old image?

Time doesn’t heal all wounds, in fact, sometimes it makes things worse.

In marketing, and in public opinion, time is either your best friend or worst enemy. With Libertarians, it’s been both. Time has allowed the GOP-knockoff mentality to set in with many voters, while helping the movement grow to the size it is today.

Now is the perfect time to reshape the public conception of the movement. Funding, participation, and media attention are at an all-time high. A universal push, strong and with clear positions, is exactly what libertarianism needs. Yes, most libertarians have very Pro-Freedom views, but you can’t build a political alliance on shrugging your shoulders and saying “Yeah bruh, just do whatever. I don’t care.“

So how do we smash the image Republicans and Democrats have built? Well, I’m a strong believer in looking back in time to find inspiration. And I know how libertarians love socialism… so let’s start there!

How do you rebrand a political ideology, when it comes to politics? Well, I would look into the recent revolution of, Vermont Senator, Bernie Sanders.

Socialism in the United States has long been a controversial subject. From Joseph Weydemeyer (a German colleague of Karl Marx) to Eugene V. Debs, socialism as an ideology has always been in the minority. It has also been politically persecuted in large part due to an extreme fear of communism.

Eugene V. Debs, a socialist activist, and presidential candidate for the Socialist Party, was arrested on charges of sedition, after criticizing President Woodrow Wilson on his war draft policies. Today, most of us would undoubtedly view this as a denial of freedom of speech.

In fact, at the time, many people believed the same way. President Harding even granted him a pardon after Wilson left office, believing (like many constitutional scholars at the time) that Debs was simply not that dangerous.

FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover dedicated much of his time hunting down communists. His famous night raids and undercover missions became infamously known. Add to this a massive wave of anti-socialistic sentiment in the United States (during the Cold War) and you’d think you’d have an ideology that was essentially dead.

On the contrary, Westernized forms of socialism survived the political purges of conservative governments in the 1980’s and 1990’s; not only that, but they grew. Many European countries, and Canada, have adopted limited socialistic policies or ‘democratic socialism ‘.

But signs of the movement in America were relatively grim. In fact, American presidents since LBJ haven’t been very progressive or socialist at all. Compared to our brothers across the Sea, we have actually been very moderate and Conservative. Even Obama’s ACA reforms were still years behind what other nations had developed.

With all this going against Senator Sanders, what did he do? He was one careful old man for starters. When you watch his speeches on TV or listen to him, you wouldn’t know it, but he had to be very careful not to come across as too extreme. Having the word ‘ Socialist ‘ in the title of your official political affiliation is bad enough but to actually sound like one? Not even Bernie could win races like that.

So how did he avoid the ‘socialist ‘trap? He marketed himself properly. Running as a Democrat was his first very smart decision. At face value, it made him look like a Democrat. Instead of the rhetoric filled ol’ revolutionary his critics portrayed him to be.

Second, he emphasized the more popular parts of his plans. Free healthcare, and free education etc.

Third, he always made sure people understood he was a democratic socialist, not a full blown socialist.

Last? He knew that if he got to the younger voters first, he could control a large part of the message. The new generation brings change, and the press is usually who communicates that change.

The media just loved it, and so did the people. He played where he could win, controlled the message, and successfully deflected attacks on his easily exposed flank, and it worked. Record numbers of Democrats came out to vote for him and he beat Hillary Clinton in the key Michigan and Wisconsin presidential primaries. However, as we all know, in the end it wasn’t enough.

Bernie Sanders will probably never become President, but Libertarians need to study his strategies and figure out what they can learn by it.

Not every libertarian position is mainstream. Most of them, I’d argue, are not. Our advantage comes in our philosophy, not individual policy questions. It may sound confusing, but it’s not as complicated as you think.

For instance, most Americans would agree that everyone has the right to do what they want on their property, as long as they aren’t hurting anyone else. That’s a basic libertarian philosophy. The problem? I highly doubt most people would agree to assisted suicide, drug use, and prostitution overnight just because it’s in line with libertarian philosophy. That’s where the conflict comes in, they like the idea of people minding their own business until they realize that means they’re going to have to do it too. The voters must ask themselves ‘Do we want freedom that badly?’.

Right there, that’s the key, don’t put them in the position to ask that question! You’re giving the extreme choice between either not joining the movement or joining it and becoming exactly the stereotype they have learned to hate.

A conservative can believe in low taxes, but that doesn’t mean every Conservative thinks the income tax should be abolished.

When people look at American conservatism, they see many different levels. Moderates, grassroots, War Hawks, Evangelicals, etc.

We need to get to a point where we are seen in the same fashion. Not every libertarian believes in small government and low taxes. They may still prize freedom more than the average individual, just not to as extreme a level as other libertarians.

Part of the reason this is an issue is simply the fact that libertarianism isn’t really big enough to show off your diversity as much. If you do not portray yourself as diverse and compatible with most people’s political beliefs, people won’t think you are.

A libertarian will never become President if he walks out from his campaign headquarters and starts talking about how all drugs should be legal, all wars are unnecessary, and how all taxation is theft. All they will do is spark an angry-time wasting debate with some college students.

There is a reason why when extremists win, it surprises everyone. Because nobody expects people that closed minded and extreme to be taken seriously. We got that image because, well, it’s true. Extremists usually don’t win, because people don’t like loud rhetoric; they want someone who they can sit back and relax with while talking about real economic problems. Not a revolutionary burning his tax certificate in front of the federal reserve. That’s how a lot of people view the movement.

For all of my strong critiques of Gary Johnson, I supported him because I thought he was the right man for the job. What made it easier was that he wasn’t as extreme as other libertarians. He made it clear he would work together with Democrats and Republicans and though he wasn’t a moderate libertarian, he was in the same general area.

We must limit the grassroots rhetoric so it doesn’t scare people away. Yes, I know, Keynesian economics suck and the freer the market, the freer the people. But, if we want to be taken seriously, we must broaden our approach. Remember, A moderate in a sea of extremists is a lifeguard for every intelligent individual, and believe me, people are smarter than you think.

The Essential 3

Libertarians would do well to target three groups: the younger voting bloc; the business community; and progressive-moderate Republicans. These are the groups most likely to fully accept some form of libertarianism.

Younger voters tend to be more accepting and active. Like a race horse you try to mount – it may be difficult to get on – but once you’ve done it, it’ll take you wherever you want to go very quickly.  A candidate with an energized younger base of voters not only supplies an endless amount of energy for his or her campaign, but also gives the impression of change, something people usually want.

Younger groups of voters, such as millennials, are more accepting of socialist leaning policies, however, I believe this to be a matter of exposure, not politics. I believe young people have accepted socialism or progressivism more than other generations because they have had the most positive exposure to it.

If ‘young people ‘were impressed with the same amount of positive influence for classical liberalism, I believe they could be the biggest base of support. Another added benefit is that younger generations are less likely to be put off by extremism. In fact, they are usually the ones who historically cause it. This means that the Libertarian Party grassroots are less likely to scare away potential voters in schools, colleges, and youth political organizations.

The business community is not usually satisfied. Even when given ample freedoms or low taxes, they are always pushing for more. That’s why they are businessmen, It’s how they have survived.

Libertarianism, more than any other major political group, gives them that.

Targeting them would be an effective marketing strategy, especially now after 8 years of a progressive Democratic Presidency. One thing you need to make clear is libertarianism stands for capitalism, not corporatism or crony-capitalism: If you can pull that off, you not only gain a solid group of voters, but you create a clear alternative to modern corporatism -You get votes and make capitalism sexy again, It’s the ultimate win-win.

Lastly, the underrated, underappreciated, and undermined wing of the Republican Party; the progressive Republicans.

Nobody in the Republican Party is more bullied, hated, and excluded than the modern wing of the party – nicknamed RINOs (Republicans In Name Only). It’s hard to believe the same fringe of the party that gave America Theodore Roosevelt and Dwight D. Eisenhower would be so abused and mocked; and abuse breeds dissatisfaction.

Progressive Republicans are most likely to be lured into voting Libertarian. The philosophy is different for the two groups – classical liberalism and progressivism are two different things. However, both progressive Republicans and Libertarians end up agreeing on the same questions, even if for different reasons.

There are some differences, depending on how progressive the Republican is but, in general, both groups get along very well. 2016 gave Libertarians probably the best chance in history to steal Republican voters away from their party. Even the ones that weren’t technically progressive still voted for Gary Johnson in droves. The fear of Donald Trump gave Libertarians the biggest advantage they have ever had. 2020 will bring about a Trump reelection that will most likely give the same opportunity.

Now is the time to strike. The new sweep of populist conservatism will not only drive progressive Republicans, but also constitutional and even some grassroots Republicans, to your party.

The next party platform and nominee needs to be a part of an overarching strategy to appeal to these groups on all levels. If you can’t, you won’t gain the base of support needed to rise out of the less than 10% cage the party is currently in.

The final touch

If you can successfully do all, or even any, of the things I mentioned, I am fully confident libertarians will make significant strides to winning a presidential election. Libertarianism isn’t a small insurgent group of young rebels anymore. The party is over 40 years old with a good track record and a growing fan base.

You have the springboard, but so far you haven’t made the leap, or perhaps haven’t had the will or strength. I’m sure that many of my fellow classical liberals will disagree with my analysis, but I assure you, all my research and thinking has convinced me that this is the path that needs to be taken.

Personally, I’m not a libertarian. I’m a left-leaning classical liberal. But I admire the Libertarian Party and I agree with them more than I do with the modern forms of the Democratic and Republican parties. My point of disagreement comes in the form of economics where I prefer a more progressive stance in the market place. But I agree with you far more than I disagree. I have never supported a candidate in a presidential election that wasn’t a libertarian, for the simple reason that I’ve never found a candidate, in my opinion, who made more sense than your own.

You have the power and the tools to break the two-party system, and that is a goal I think many on both sides can work to achieve. Your unceasing fight for privacy, freedom, and peace has brought so many so close to voting for you, only to have the false image of a libertarian extremist scare them away.

I don’t want that; this party is better than that, and so is the movement.

In closing, you have a meeting with destiny. You understand that a nation, given every freedom deemed acceptable by the world but with no power to protect it, never actually had it in the first place. You understand why it is important to keep the freedom to choose over the opportunity to gain. And you have a remarkable, if somewhat insistent, habit of reminding us what happens when we lose those rights.

All these things are [a few of] the reasons we need the Libertarian Party and why you, not only deserve success, but will excel at it. Do not ever give up the very basis of your party, but always make sure that everything else is flexible. If we are not willing to sideline our non-essential opinions, how can we expect others to accept our most basic beliefs? We can sit around in our perfect world’s demanding that everyone totally convert to what we think or want, but it is not all practical nor will it succeed without resorting to violence.

That’s how life, and consequently politics, works. Libertarians are not immune to this, and you need to understand this to truly succeed.

* Caleb Mills is a politically active teen who believes in individualism, classical liberalism, and globalism. Mills is currently writing for http://www.atlasnews.co/ and has also worked as a consultant on US history and politics for other publications.

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