Libertarian Lawmakers or a Libertarian Laws?
It would be great if our political system were restructured to make third parties viable competitors for federal office. Personally, I’d like to try a party-list proportional representation system with statewide, multi-member districts, and I think we should change the rules governing candidate inclusion for the presidential debates, too. Absent all of that, I’d also welcome a simpler (and more historically precedented) transformation, like one of the major parties realigning on policy or dissolving entirely and being succeeded by something more libertarian.
But let’s assume none of that happens and libertarians stay in our present position vis-a-vis governance for the foreseeable future. And let’s assume libertarians—as a party, a loosely organized movement, and an ideology which roughly one in five Americans lean toward—will continue to have limited money, time, and public support.
Given all that, a question I’ve been mulling as we approach Election Day is this: Is it better to have libertarian lawmakers or libertarian laws? Should we be expending energy trying to put a couple of friendly faces in Congress, or should we focus on legislation, irrespective of who writes or votes for it?
I understand the appeal of having a standard-bearer for the movement. I was the sole intern at Ron Paul’s 2008 campaign headquarters, after all. More recently, Rep. Justin Amash (L–Mich.) has been by far the member of Congress with whom I’m most closely aligned, and I’m sorry he’s not seeking reelection to the House. I know how hopeful and reassuring it can be to see a politician with decent name recognition giving thoughtful voice to libertarian views on the national stage.
I also don’t underestimate the importance of personality in swaying public opinion. The average American only has so much enthusiasm and mental space for politics, which is as it should be. For many people, it can be easier to identify with a compelling, sympathetic person and their general philosophy of governance than to sort out a whole agenda’s worth of policy positions for oneself. I suspect as a movement we’ve put too much emphasis on public officials filling this representative role as opposed to media figures—like Joe Rogan or Rush Limbaugh—who are background noise in the lives of millions. But I don’t discount the value of having a popu
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