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United States Libertarian Party

The Libertarian Party is a United States political party created in December 11, 1971 in the home of David Nolan. The first and only electoral college vote it won was for presidential candidate John Hospers[?] and vice-presidential candidate Theodora B. Nathan in the 1972 presidential election; this was also the first electoral vote won by a woman.

Key tenets of the Libertarian Party platform include the following:

Libertarians claim that their platform follows from the ultimate value of individual liberty: the right of individuals to exercise sole dominion over their own lives and property, and to live in whatever manner they choose, so long as they do not forcibly interfere with the right of others to do the same. To this end, Libertarians want to reduce the size of government (eliminating many of its current functions entirely), and cut taxes.

Libertarians reject the commonly held "right vs. left" description of political positions. Instead, Libertarians refer people to the Nolan chart[?] to communicate their perception of political orientation (however, see "Libertarians: left or right?" below).

Within the larger framework of libertarian politics, the Libertarian Party's platform falls roughly in the realm of free market minarchism. The party advocates limiting the government as much as possible, within the framework of the United States Constitution. There is some internal disagreement about this platform, and not all the party's supporters advocate its complete implementation, but most think that the USA would benefit from some of the Libertarian Party's proposed changes. On the other hand, some Libertarians are actually anarcho-capitalists who view minarchy as a first step towards the abolition of government.

Table of contents

Political power of the Libertarian Party

The Libertarian Party portrays itself as the third largest party in the United States. It justifies its claim with several facts, including the following:

  • In the 2002 elections, Libertarian candidates for state House of Representatives received more than a million votes -- more than twice the votes received by all other minor parties combined.
  • In the 2000 elections, the party ran about 1,430 candidates at the local, state, and federal level. More than 1,600 Libertarians ran for office in the 2002 mid-term election. Both numbers are more candidates than all other third parties combined ran in these elections.
  • Following the 2002 elections, more than 300 Libertarians hold elected state and local offices. This is more than twice that of all other third parties combined.
  • In 2000, 256 candidates ran for seats in the House of Representatives. In 2002, 219 candidates ran for House seats. These are the only two times in over 80 years that any third party has contested a majority of House seats.
  • In 2000, Libertarian candidates for U.S. House won 1.73 million votes. This count is more than any other third party in U.S. history by raw vote totals, although not by proportion of the electorate. (Some observers point out that, in 2002, the U.S. had a larger population than at any time in its history, so it is perhaps unremarkable that some third party would obtain more raw votes than any past third party.)
  • In 2000, Massachusetts U.S. Senate candidate Carla Howell won a record 11.9% of the vote. Then in 2002, Michael Cloud won 19% of the vote for the other Massachusetts seat in the U.S. Senate. (In the latter case, the Republican candidate failed to meet ballot-access requirements.)
  • In 2002, Ed Thompson won 11% of the vote for governor of Wisconsin. As a result, one of the eight members of the Wisconsin Election Board is a Libertarian. No other third party holds a seat on the Election Board of any state.
  • Texas (183), Indiana (158), Missouri (52), Idaho (49), and Wisconsin (25) are all running record numbers of candidates in their state or local elections in 2002. This is more in each of these states than any other third party.
  • The Libertarian Party has been a national party since 1972, and became the first third party to run in all 50 states for three elections in a row. It has run in all 50 states in four elections: 1980, 1992, 1996, and 2000. No other third party in U.S. history has managed to run a presidential candidate in all 50 states more than once.

Evidence opposing the view that the Libertarian Party is the third largest include:

  • The Libertarians have only finished third in a presidential election twice, in 1984 and 1988. In both cases they received fewer than half a million votes. In 2000, the most recent presidential election, Ralph Nader finished third, Pat Buchanan finished fourth, and Libertarian Harry Browne (with Vice Presidential Candidate Art Olivier) finished fifth receiving 382,892 votes, or about 0.36 percent of the national popular vote. On the other hand, no other current third party has ever finished third in a presidential election more than once.

  • As of October 2002, the Libertarians ranked fifth in voter registration nationally. The Constitution Party ranked third with 317,926 registrants, next to the Greens' 274,740 and the Libertarians' 208,456. However, most observers believe that nearly all of the 95% of the Constitution Party's registrants who are actually registrants of California's American Independent Party[?] registered in the belief that they were registering as independents i.e. not associating with any political party. Also, excluding New York (where Libertarians are not counted) and California, Libertarians rank third in voter registration.

Members of the Libertarian Party often complain that the U.S. electoral system is biased against third parties, an opinion they share with many other political parties. Due to the Republican Party's tendency to borrow libertarian ideas (see Libertarians: Left or Right? below), many of these people have left the party to pursue election under the Republican banner. Ron Paul, for example, was elected to the House of Representatives from Texas by using this tactic. The Republican Liberty Caucus[?] is an entire organization of such "liberty-minded" voters.

Despite their difficulties winning elections to high offices, however, Libertarians have been credited with helping to defeat both Democrat and Republican candidates, a charge they do not dispute. For example, Libertarian U.S. Senate candidates polled 3, 21, 29, and 6 times the margin of victory in Georgia (1992), Nevada (1998), Washington (2000), and South Dakota (2002), respectively. In these elections, one Democrat (in Georgia) and three Republicans (in the other states) were defeated. Critics contend, however, that to credit the Libertarians with this outcome, one must believe that Libertarian voters would probably have turned the election over to the loser, rather than staying home or increasing the margin of victory. In fact, a Libertarian Party press release of January 2003 admitted that "in the past, the LP's use of the 'spoiler effect' has been essentially random, and often unintentional", and that only in 2002 did they make a concerted effort to play "spoiler" in elections. Party leaders have expressed their intention to pursue this effect more fully in future elections, however.

Libertarians: left or right?

Libertarians often assert that their political positions transcend the left or right taxonomy. In fact, the stated platform of the Libertarian Party does differ from positions held by both traditional "left" and "right" movements in the United States and elsewhere. Unlike traditional "left" parties, Libertarians favor unregulated, laissez-faire markets; unlike traditional "right" parties, Libertarians favor legalization of drugs and strong civil liberties. Furthermore, Libertarians disagree substantially with both the Democratic and Republican parties, which respectively purport to represent the center-left and center-right in U.S. politics.

However, the party has historically had more influence on and closer ties with the Republican Party. For example, former Republican Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich claimed to be influenced by Libertarian principles, and was praised by many Libertarians for attempting to shrink government. The tendency of the American right to co-opt the language and social critiques of Libertarians with regard to market deregulation (for example, the frequent citing of studies by the Cato Institute) only further cements the image of Libertarians as right-wingers. Critics also contend that Libertarian campaigns against Democrats tend to be more frequent and more energetic than their campaigns against Republicans. In a 2002 South Dakota election for Senate, for example, Libertarian candidate Kurt Evans[?] suspended his campaign a week before Election Day and urged voters to support Republican candidate John Thune[?].

On the other hand, Democrats come closer than Republicans to the Libertarian position on civil rights. For example, the Republicans installed John Ashcroft as Attorney General in 2001; Ashcroft was widely held to advocate massive curtailments of civil liberties, a view that only gained currency with his actions following the USA PATRIOT Act's passage. The Libertarian Party has sharply attacked these curtailments of civil liberties. The party has also actively pressed for the repealment of drug laws, a position that puts them at odds with the Republican Party.

Conservative and liberal pundits cannot seem to agree how to place the Libertarian Party, either. Prominent conservative Ann Coulter has accused the Libertarians of being a single-issue party because she disagrees with them on the Drug War, while others accuse Libertarians of focusing predominantly on issues of market regulation. Whether the Libertarian defense of social freedom makes them more a left-wing party or their defense of economic freedom makes them more a right-wing party or whether, as Libertarians say, their comprehensive defense of freedom transcends the right/left taxomony, depends on the observer's point of view.

Prominent party members

See also: List of political parties in the United States

External links


Libertarians as "spoilers"

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