Thursday, May 2, 2013

Political Strategy for Freedom

There is a maxim in chess (there are many, actually!) that goes something like this: Tactics always trump strategy.  For example, it's not good strategy to give up your queen and only get a pawn in return.  However, there are rare occasions where doing so sets up a winning combination.  Something that is wrong as a general principle might sometimes be your best course of action in a specific situation.

I was reminded of this old saying the other night, while sitting and chatting with a group of politically-minded friends.  The question of strategy came up.  We, at the table, were freedom-minded individuals who agreed on many things.  But one vexing question came up, and I've seen it come up in different forms in different places over the years.  What is the best path forward if we want to fight for liberty in our world today?

Some at the table argued that working with the Republicans is hopeless, that we're wasting our time trying to gradually steer the Republican ship a little more towards freedom and a little further away from big government.  That we need to work at building the Libertarian Party.  Let's call this the Libertarian approach.

Others argued that we need to face the fact that there are only two influential parties in this country, always have been, and if we don't work within one of them we won't have any significant influence.  So if we feel that Republicans more closely match our ideals, at least on paper, then we should attend Republican events and strive for positions in the Republican Party.  Let's call this the Republican approach.

Some of those favoring the Libertarian approach agreed that, yes, there are generally two influential political parties in these United States.  XKCD covered this very well (but you've already seen this because XKCD is one of the four best comics of all time* and you read it regularly) here:
     http://xkcd.com/1127/
     http://xkcd.com/1127/large/
However, while it is true that there are two influential parties at any given time, those parties have changed over the years.  So why not work to grow the Libertarian Party to be one of those two influential parties?

Ah, but those favoring the Republican approach countered: That would take way too long.  We are losing our liberties right now, and if we lose too much we might not be able to recover.  Joining and influencing the Republican party is the more effective approach, if time is of the essence.

Those favoring the Libertarian approach said that working within the Republican Party would be difficult, because they could not see themselves supporting some (most?) Republican candidates.  That instead of getting results more quickly by working in an established party they might actually be supporting a party that they didn't believe in, possibly causing it to survive longer.

There are nuances I might have missed from the conversation, but those were some of the main themes I remember.

My opinion?  [This is the benefit of having my own blog, by the way.  I get the last word--even if only you, my seven readers**, will ever see it.]  I can see the merits of both arguments.  There is no one right answer.  Is there ever?  Back to how I opened this piece.  Tactics and strategy.  What are the tactics?  What is the strategy?

Tactically speaking, I don't know of a course of action that would result in certain victory for those who love freedom.  I have an open mind, though.  It is not at all clear which approach of the two above will yield superior results, not to me anyway.  So this provides little guidance in this situation, other than to say that I need to be open to either approach.

Strategically speaking, you don't ever want to compromise your principles.  Be loyal to principles, and to people with principle.  My principles favor freedom.

At first blush, strategy would seem to favor supporting the Libertarian approach, the cleaner way to proceed, without compromising any principles.  However, I was not convinced by the arguments of the Libertarian approach in two respects.

First of all, I don't know that a much larger, much more influential Libertarian Party would be a good thing.  What would it really mean if the Libertarian Party displaced the Republican Party?  I have a bad feeling that if it became bigger it would have the same problem that the Republicans do.  That there would be LINOs (Libertarians in name only), just like there are RINOs.  And people would put an (L) after their name just to get elected in certain districts, just like people put an (R) behind their name now, regardless of whether they believe in the Republican Platform or not.  So I'm not sure that growing the Libertarian Party is the solution.  I have a suspicion that people who favor freedom are naturally in the minority, as many (most?) humans seem to crave power for its own sake.

Secondly, I wonder what the Republican Party really stands for.  What they claim to stand for, what they should stand for, what they could stand for.  On paper it DOES stand for most of the same things that I believe in!  Back on January 3rd, I had these thoughts about the Republican Party:
Are the Republicans Serious??? Let's Focus on SPENDING.

I was reminded of these thoughts when I attended the Cobb County Republican Mass Precinct Meeting back on February 9, 2013.  They handed us a piece of paper that said this (click to enlarge):

Excuse me, what?  Seriously, you're trying to grow the party and you put that shit in front of me?  Are you fighting for principles?  Are you trying to stop Obamacare, rein in government spending, lower taxes, and much more?  Or are you running some kind of exclusive club?

So much material in this one sheet of paper, I hardly know where to begin.  I'll focus on just a couple things, although much of the document is condescending and misguided.

I particularly like this statement: "4. Do you believe in the Republican Platform?"  Joe, do you?

I also like this line: "Remember, you are electing officers to lead your party into the future, NOT change it's [sic] ideology."  I wonder what they mean by "lead".  I think they have the meaning of "lead" confused with something like "follow blindly, like sheep."

Furthermore, I am not attempting to change any ideology.  I am trying to stay true to the Republican Platform--which is a lot more than I can say for many "Republican" politicians, who are not bothered in the least by large government.

More of the same can be found here, from Peach Pundit:
"Mass Precinct Online Pre-Registration for Cobb County" by Bridget Cantrell
http://www.peachpundit.com/2013/01/21/mass-precinct-online-pre-registration/

The article itself is relatively straightforward, but consider this comment, from GAgadfly:
    David, you may have missed the email because Joe Dendy doesn’t seem to consider you a TRUE Republican. Here is some of the language in the recent email he sent announcing the online registration:
    “Republicans believe in smaller government, lower taxes, strong national defense and personal responsibility. We believe in supporting and working to elect Republican candidates, after which we believe in holding these elected officials responsible. We ARE NOT democrats nor libertarians! We are REPUBLICANS, and although it may not be perfect, it is OUR party.
    Every TRUE Republican is invited to participate in the Precinct Mass Meeting which will be held February 9, 2013 at Roswell Street Baptist Church.”
    Apparently Joe needs to learn the difference between ideology and party, and also needs to learn that capitalization matters. Aren’t we all democrats, as in “believe in democracy?” Can’t we be philosophically libertarian, while still being dedicated to the Republican party? Not is JOE’S party, it would seem.
    This is the sort of mindset that appears to have infected Republican party leadership at many levels, and will only serve to limit our growth and future sustainability. Mr. Dendy and other party leaders need to remember Reagan’s 80/20 rule: Someone that agrees with you 80% of the time is an 80% friend and ally, not a 20% traitor.
I'm not exactly sure what they're driving at.  I believe in those things Dendy mentioned, and yet apparently I'm not welcome?

No matter.  When I saw that paper at the Mass Precinct Meeting I was not dissuaded at all.  No need to be angry or defensive.  My opinion is that I am a truer Republican than whoever wrote those words on that page.  I suspect that the person who wrote those words never bothered to read the Republican Party Platform, and certainly doesn't believe in it even if they did read it.  So who is he or she to tell me what it means to be a "Republican"?  I don't need them to tell me what I should believe or what I can do, I am an intelligent human being.  And I can read for myself, thank you, whether it's the Republican platform or the Constitution itself.  By the way: Does it make sense for them to drive away passionate, liberty-minded people from "their" party?  Is that really good leadership?

Principles are eternal.  But a party, any party, is simply the sum of the people who comprise it.  A party is not a static thing, just as a human being is not a static thing.  Both can and do change over time.  If enough liberty-minded people join the party, and if they persuade others already in the party, then the Republican Party can change for the better.

I also do not think that this is an either/or question.  Why not do both?  Why not try to influence the Republican Party AND try to grow the Libertarian Party?  I don't think they are mutually exclusive.  I think we have seen this in the political life of Ron Paul.  I believe his principles have remained the same, but you can see that he has tried both approaches.  Maybe we NEED to do both.

I realize that growing the Libertarian Party will take a long time, and it's hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel.  And even if successful, it might never be a major party.  But I am hopeful.  I was reminded of what I mistakenly remembered as an Arthur C. Clarke quote as I thought about this topic.  Things that seem impossible to accomplish in the short run can be almost inevitable in the long run if you work diligently over time.  Maybe this was the quote I remember, from Elon University's "Imagining the Internet" page:
"We tend to overestimate the effect of a technology in the short run and underestimate the effect in the long run." - Roy Amara, leader at the Institute for the Future, a think tank

I happen to prefer the "work within the Republican Party" approach.  Call me naive, but I think that they are good people and I think that we can work with them.  Maybe they feel defensive at losing some control, maybe they feel scared because they don't fully understand us--both natural reactions.  I happen to think that we shouldn't speak in terms of "beating" them so much as "convincing" them.

Listen, if we can't convince them, whom can we convince???  We need to convince a majority so we might as well start with those who are ideologically closer to us.  I'll be the "good cop" and let some of the fire-breathing Libertarians (in the best sense) play the role of the "bad cop."  I think it's healthy to have different types of people and different approaches.  It takes all types of players to make an effective team, and I want a large, strong team.


I also had one final thought that scares me. You've all heard that you can't get the right answers unless you ask the right questions, I'm sure.  But what is the right question?  I've been talking about political strategy in terms of working with political parties.  But what if that's not the right question?  I worry that we're wasting our time with all of this.  I hate to be pessimistic but I have to ask.  Why do we care about all this Republican Party/Libertarian Party bullshit?  Why are we expending so much energy fighting each other, trying to grow a party, going to meetings, strategizing to get elected to party positions, etc.

Would we not be better off just skipping all of this party organizing and going directly to the people?  Would our energy be better spent buying space on a billboard and putting up educational messages?  Buying advertising on various web pages?  Getting elected to local political positions, instead of trying to become party functionaries?  If voters want freedom they have it in their power to get better people elected.

Or is the big money associated with a large political party necessary to get elected?  Not always.  We saw it recently in Kennesaw.  Charles Gregory got elected largely through passionate, motivated activist support, people getting out and knocking on doors.  From the Marietta Daily Journal:
"New lawmaker: Money doesn’t always triumph" by Rachel Cooper
http://mdjonline.com/view/full_story/19657490/article-New-lawmaker--Money-doesn%E2%80%99t-always-triumph

Still, I get asked this question constantly at work: "Is it scalable?"  That is, just because you can do it once, though a large amount of individual effort, doesn't mean that you can sustain that over time.  You might not be able to even repeat it a second time.  Just because Gregory did it, does that mean that that is the right way for others?  I'm skeptical.

Which leads to another depressing note.  Why should freedom-loving people have to work so hard?  Are people inherently not smart enough to see that freedom is the answer?  Not more taxation.  Not more regulation.  Not more wars.  Not more welfare.  Are all our efforts doomed to failure in the long run?

I wish I knew the answers, to all the questions I have raised in this blog post.


* The best four comics of all time are, of course: The Far Side, Calvin and Hobbes, Dilbert, and XKCD.   :)

** Estimated readership.  :)


Post Script:
I got a great comment from one of you, my seven readers.  I'm posting it here so that all can see it.
All good points. One can argue that none of us really have freedom. I'm not free from coming to work when I don't feel like it, or buying whatever I want whenever I want it. One can argue that humans evolved to be dependent on each other and things, thus making us less free each generation.
One can argue that no political platform offers us freedom because we've allowed ourselves (over time) to contradict the very idea.
Fascinating.  Great point.  Basically saying that we have evolved as social animals, so we're not really programmed to want to be completely free, not most of us anyway.  So maybe it's not that surprising that our social constructs, political parties included, are consequently not set up to optimize for freedom.

Even so, this is an explanation, not an excuse.  Understanding that complete freedom might not be possible, or even desired, there is still no reason for government to take away so much freedom, or for political parties to support that loss of freedom.  Great point, but if you accept that premise it merely means that we need to draw a line somewhere.  It doesn't justify going so far down the "increase government power" road, not in my opinion.