Libertarians: The men and women in the arena

by Carla Howell

How often have you heard critics of the Libertarian Party say, “You guys never win.”

Such accusations are usually launched by Democratic or Republican voters, who vote for the “winners.”

Or by people who are not active in politics. They’re critics in the bleachers who do not dare step onto the playing field.

Or they’re on the playing field, but on the wrong side: the side that grows today’s big government.

If your goal as a Libertarian is to shrink the size and scope of government so as to advance human freedom, what is “winning?”

In the political arena, most Americans equate “winning” with being the warm body who gets the most votes, thereby assuming the authorities of a particular office.

But little attention is placed on whether those warm bodies are exercising those authorities to shrink government, keep it the same size, or expand it. Whether they are working for, or against, liberty.

About 99 percent of them — almost all Democrats and Republicans — expand government. They vote for bigger budgets. They vote for new bonds, more government debt, and countless government programs. They fund new wars. They vote for higher taxes, and more regulations and prohibitions that restrict our freedom.

They never even talk about shrinking government, except in superficial ways.

The few who run as Democrats or Republicans and who advocate for liberty often sell out by endorsing big-government politicians in their own party. Their small-government bills are quickly shot down. They fail to stop the growth of government, and often contribute to its expansion.

Libertarians know that Democrats and Republicans who “win” are only winning for themselves and their special interest pals. Their “win” is a big loss for liberty. A setback.

Because the Libertarian Party is not yet big enough to get lots of electoral victories, we measure our progress in other ways as well, such as party growth, outreach, and expanded ballot access.

We look for victories in government policy. When an elected Libertarian repeals a tax, or a candidate forces his opponent to take a more Libertarian position, we call it a win.

We know that with every election, more voters hear our Libertarian solutions. With every election, more come to see that a small, libertarian government is what they want.

We give voters a choice, a way to demand less government — rather than settle for condoning one or another option for more government.

With every campaign, we lay the groundwork for more acceptance — and more votes — for future Libertarian candidates.

Libertarian activism is a long game. It takes courage and determination to play it in the absence of widespread electoral success.

But unlike many who sit on the sidelines, Libertarians are in the game. We may be small, but we’re impact players in American politics, and becoming more influential with every election.

And we’re scoring points for the right side: Shrinking government.

This quote by Teddy Roosevelt, which was part of his “Man in the Arena” speech of 1910, illustrates the important work of Libertarians who work to advance liberty through elections:

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.

We get our road map for freedom by combining Roosevelt’s insight with Libertarians’ commitment to play only for the cause of liberty and small government.

This article was originally published in LP News, Feb. 2017 issue (p. 10).