On May 14, Libertarian Party elder statesman Gary Greenberg spoke to the Manhattan LP meeting on the subject of why Libertarians lose elections and what we need to do to win.
While there were a few early victories at the national level, most elected Libertarians for the past forty years have won small local offices. Typically, their victories resulted more from being personally known in the jurisdiction rather than having sold Libertarian values. Mister Greenberg, a veteran campaigner and New York party leader himself, has come up with significant insight into how to move the Libertarian party forward.
Refreshingly, Greenberg did not waste time whining about lack of media coverage or campaign finance laws, hurdles that while real, are out of the party’s control. After forty years, he cites the LP’s biggest challenge: we have not established a coherent identity in the public mind. While some voters may think of us as “gun nuts” or anti-big-government, most Americans cannot state what the Libertarian party stands for. (Like me, Greenberg observes that the same is becoming true of the Republicans and Democrats as well.) Even when a Libertarian position aligns with mainstream voters, we are easily drowned out by the major party bullhorns.
While the Libertarian party is the most successful 3rd party in America, other parties such as the Greens and the Right to Life Party have eclipsed the LP in media attention and votes by creating a strong identity or organizing around a single issue.
Applying these observations and his own campaign experiences, Mister Greenberg says the way forward for the LP is to stake out territory that reflects libertarian values, but upon which the major parties dare not tread. While quick to say these are not the only possibilities, he came up with three compelling examples:
- “90/90”: A proposal that no more than 90% of public employees should make more than 90% of the wages for the same jobs in the private economy. Because of their dependence on public union votes and union benevolence in general, Democrats and Republicans would have to publicly reject this idea, but it has common sense appeal to voters. 90/90 expresses the LP’s value of limited government with a specific proposal that can be publicized all year every year, building an identity in the public mind.
- “All schools, all vouchers”: Again, school choice is popular with voters, but no Democrat or Republican candidate could take a view so threatening to the union/government oligarchy, so the LP will stand apart.
- Mister Greenberg’s third proposal was “Zero% Sales Tax”. Most people understand the cruel and regressive nature of the sales tax, but Democrats and Republicans would never support slashing a major funding source.
These positions share qualities of catchiness, coherence with political philosophy, and common sense appeal. Mister Greenberg believes that if the LP stresses a few clear and unique positions in a memorable way at year-round events as well as during elections, we will finally become the go-to party for the defense of individual rights our founders envisioned.