I disagree with pretty much anybody who says there is only one right institutional or tactical way to focus liberty-increasing effort. There are wrong ways (like creating extra liberty-oriented parties), but there is no single right way. The Libertarian Party, the Republican Liberty Caucus, the Cato Institute, and Reason Magazine/Foundation are each useful, and it's just criminal that such organizations fight or ignore each other instead of working together in a Vast Libertarian Conspiracy. It's ironic that there are so many conspiracy theorists in the LP and the larger freedom movement, and yet we as a movement can't conspire our way out of a wet paper bag. Hell, we don't even have a secret handshake. Then again, it's nice to be reminded of just how far from tyranny America actually is, that all these self-proclaimed freedom-fighters so clearly believe they can afford the luxury of a balkanized freedom movement.
The role of the LP in the Vast Libertarian Conspiracy should be to use electoral politics to move public policy in the direction of increasing liberty. The LP should seek to be the political voice and electoral broker of the 16% and 20% of Americans who polls show favor increased economic and personal liberty. Of course, even if we capture that 20% electoral share, we will be winning very few legislative seats. So why run? There are multiple independently valid reasons for a Libertarian to run a race she has little chance of winning:
- To educate voters about the libertarian alternative to Left and Right;
- To provide voters in that election a way to signal their desire for increased economic and personal liberty;
- To show the major-party candidates how many votes are they are losing for not favoring increased liberty;
- To get more attention for the libertarian perspective from editorial boards, journalists, candidate comparison services, and other opinion-shapers;
- To directly confront the incumbent and his attending staff with the libertarian perspective during candidate forums;
- To help maintain LP ballot access, which in states like California depends on result thresholds in certain races;
- To be prepared in case scandal knocks an incumbent off the ballot in a safe seat, as has happened to Tom DeLay in Texas this year.
Note that each one of these reasons is defined relative to the status quo, and not to some abstract utopian ideal. No election in the real world is ever an up-or-down referendum on libertarianism. Rather, elections are a choice between expressing support for increased liberty and expressing support for one (or none) of the alternatives. So to get people to vote our way, we only have to convince them we're not as ignorant as the Democrats and not as evil as the Republicans and not as silly as the Greens and not as self-disenfranchising as NOTA.
How hard can that be?