Head of Heartland Institute predicts libertarian president in 2016

As Eric Schansberg wisely noted in another list where I found this article, "It’s laughable to suggest Bush is anywhere close to being a Libertarian…Other than that, a provocative (albeit highly doubtful) prediction for the future from a prominent policy wonk who is sympathetic to Libertarians but not firmly in that camp…"

Yours in liberty,
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A Libertarian President? Don’t Laugh!
Written By: Joseph L. Bast
Published In: Heartlander
Publication Date: June 1, 2005
Publisher: The Heartland Institute

Libertarian ideas, such as expanding individual liberty, re-limiting government, and protecting private property rights, have become much more respectable during the past two decades. Less progress, however, appears to be taking place in politics. Nevertheless, I predict the President of the United States elected in 2016 will be the candidate of the Libertarian Party.

Bosh! you say? Well, read on.

The Victory of Ideas

Evidence of the triumph of libertarian ideas is all around us. We see it in the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Soviet Union, the global spread of capitalism, and the unprecedented percentage of the world’s people living in free democratic countries. Domestically, we see the triumph in the decline of federal taxes as a percent of gross domestic product; the 80 percent fall in welfare rolls since federal welfare reform was adopted in 1996; deregulation of airlines, trucking, and railroads; and the privatization of thousands of federal, state, and local services.

Debate has even begun on dismantling Social Security, the Ponzi scheme that entices seniors into dependency on the state, and privatizing government schools, statism’s taproot in every community across the country. If we accomplish these last two tasks, we will never be asked where we were or what we were doing on the day freedom was lost. Our generation will rightly be credited with advancing freedom both here and around the world.

Is Bush a Libertarian?

In his Second Inaugural Address, President George W. Bush made 48 references to “free,” “freedom,” and “liberty.” (It’s posted on Heartland’s Web site at http://www.heartland.org .) A skeptic might suspect the speech was written to defend an interventionist foreign policy, which libertarians oppose. But our suspicions about Bush’s motives don’t matter now: The speech is what it is, and it will be read and commented on for decades and beyond.

The speech does not call for the use of military force to spread democracy or freedom to other countries. The only use of military force that is endorsed is for defensive purposes, which libertarians wholeheartedly support. I found this passage near the end of the speech especially remarkable:

“From the perspective of a single day, including this day of dedication, the issues and questions before our country are many. From the viewpoint of centuries, the questions that come to us are narrowed and few. Did our generation advance the cause of freedom? And did our character bring credit to that cause?”

Imagine, selecting just two questions to judge an entire generation! Did we advance freedom? And were the means we used ethical? Only a libertarian would choose those two questions.

Is Bush a libertarian? Probably not. But this speech by a president of the United States set a new high water mark for the libertarian movement. It says libertarian ideas are triumphant in American politics today.

The Libertarian Party’s Contribution

At first glance, the political success of libertarian ideas seems to have taken place without much help from the Libertarian Party. Precious few Libertarian Party candidates ever get elected.

The Libertarian Party was founded in 1971--this year marks its 34th anniversary--and over the past three decades it has run thousands of candidates for public office, giving millions of people an opportunity to participate in the political system without compromising their principles. In thousands of elections, its candidates drew enough votes to decide the winner.

Ballot access laws, contribution limits, being kept out of debates, liberal bias in the media, single-member districts, and simple-majority election laws conspire to make third-party victories extremely difficult. In a three-way race, libertarians are also handicapped in a way no other political party is: H.L. Mencken said elections are the advance auction of stolen goods. Libertarians don’t believe in stealing, so they have no favors to promise, no roads or parks or schools to be built at someone else’s expense.

The failure of the Libertarian Party to elect its candidates has been due largely to factors outside its control. But those factors are about to change.

Collapse of the Two Major Parties

Between now and 2008, I predict the Democratic Party will split into radical and moderate wings. The Michael Moore wing of the party is tired of losing and being taken for granted by the moderate wing of their party. They tried to play by the rules in 2004, shunning their preferred candidate, Ralph Nader, and going all out for John Kerry, a political insider who could sound moderate and even conservative when necessary. Still they lost.

There has been talk in the past of the left wing of the Democratic Party splitting off, but it hasn’t happened. This time is different, thanks to campaign finance reform. The leftists will have at least $200 million in “527” money from George Soros and other leftist billionaires, enough to build a political organization and attract good candidates. They think the Internet has changed the rules of politics, favoring third parties, and they may be right. They plan to run a Hollywood celebrity for president, giving their party instant credibility. Maybe.

This new party, probably called the Progressive Party, will lose the 2008 presidential election, but millions of people will vote for a third-party candidate for the first time. The Progressive Party will be a battering ram for other third parties, leading the way by lowering ballot access requirements, opening debates to third-party candidates, and laying to rest the “wasted vote” argument. The Libertarian Party will benefit from those changes, but its candidates--less well-funded and less well-known than the Progressives--will still get only a few percent of the vote.

2016: A Libertarian President

By 2012, the Republican Party will split because once their Democrat foes have divided, there is no reason for cultural conservatives and libertarians to stay in the same party. Freed from the burden of defending government intervention in the name of religious values, the new Libertarian Party also will attract former Democrats and even some Progressives (the smart ones).

Hundreds of thousands, and then millions, of people will want to join a new Libertarian Party. Hundreds of elected officials and professional campaign managers and thousands of donors will switch to the new Libertarian Party.

And in 2016, the new Libertarian Party candidate will win the presidential election. Why? Because in a four-way race, only the new Libertarian Party will express values that unite, rather than divide, the American people: individual liberty, equality under the law, free enterprise, and lower taxes.

It is precisely because libertarians don’t steal from one group to give to another that it will emerge as the consensus party in an increasingly polarized and heterogenous society. While the other parties divide to conquer, only libertarians win by uniting voters. In a four-way race, its strategy will be the superior one.

The Task Ahead

Notice I say the new Libertarian Party. All these libertarian Republicans, Democrats, and Progressives will have to decide whether to join the current Libertarian Party or create a new party that features some or all of the LP’s platform but none of its current leaders, volunteers, and members.

People will join the current Libertarian Party if, by 2012, the party has permanent ballot status in most states and a large and growing membership base, attracts large crowds and positive attention at its state and national conventions, has a professional staff that is experienced and honest, and has a good reputation for running credible candidates and positive campaigns, even if the vote totals are modest.

Which is why the Libertarian Party is entering a very key moment in its history and the history of the libertarian movement. Will it be prepared to win when circumstances and the efforts of unexpected allies make victory possible? Or will it get shoved out of the way and even further marginalized in a new, four-party political world?

Either way, the president elected in 2016 will be a libertarian.

Joseph L. Bast (jbast@heartland.org )is president of The Heartland Institute.