I supported Gary Johnson for president this year. Over 1.2 million voters cast their ballots for the Libertarian presidential ticket, giving Johnson essentially 1 percent of the vote and way more than all other third parties combined.
Despite being outspent by $2 billion and receiving 1,000 times more news coverage, the Libertarian Party scored a record-breaking vote total. Not too shabby. But not enough.
I don't mean not enough to win. That's obvious. If an important reason you vote is to feel like a winner, then you should never vote for a third party. But if you vote to change the direction of the country, you don't have to win. You just have to get enough votes to be pandered to.
In the duopoly that characterizes the American political system, change happens through parties trying to woo independent voters and lukewarm partisans from the other side.
A 1 percent vote count can be safely ignored. But 5 percent cannot be. Even the possibility of a 5 percent vote count can get politicians' attention. Numbers like that get you pandered to.
And that's really all I want from a candidate for elected office. Please, Mr. Politician, you lie to everyone else, lie to me just a little. Tell me something I want to hear, just like you do to those bigger and better organized voting blocs you actually care about. I want to be worth pandering to.
In fact, there's evidence that a substantial libertarian voting bloc, in the sense of socially liberal and economically conservative voters, already exists. A new e-book by David Boaz, "The Libertarian Vote," estimates that between 10 and 20 percent of voters can be so described. They are the swing voters that can determine the outcomes of both elections and political movements, contributing to both the success of the Tea Party and the Gay Marriage movement.
What would a Democratic candidate who wants the libertarian vote look like? He would start talking about the need for shared sacrifice and leaving a better world for our children, through spending cuts and not tax increases. She would appeal to the traditional Democratic sense of fairness by pointing out the gross unfairness of any entitlement program that is not means-tested, and the cosmic shafting of the young at the hands of the modern Entitlement State.
In their present form, programs like Social Security and Medicare are not sustainable. A Democratic candidate who wants my vote and that of others like me is going to have the guts to say that, and propose real, substantive reform that involves real, substantive cuts. If I hear something along those lines that makes me believe my kids will live in a better world, that candidate could earn my vote.
How could a Republican candidate counter? By publicly stating that America's most serious problems are not the fault of gays, lesbians, immigrants or atheists.
He would welcome as a fellow traveler any American who loves liberty and claims responsibility for his or her own life. She would make limited government a cornerstone of her campaign, but consistently so. This means that whatever her views on social issues, she would see that limiting government must include keeping it out of people's private lives.
So come on people, make some noise. If you're a conservative Democrat, start asking hard questions of your party's candidates, like what are they going to do about the national debt. If you're a liberal Republican, take a conservative to task on immigration issues, gay marriage or drug prohibition. Eventually, the powers that be will start to notice.
America's slide towards becoming "Europe II" got a big push this November. Turning the tide will be hard. But it is not impossible. Thoughtful, freedom-minded voters can start by making themselves more important. Not that much more important. Just enough to be pandered to.
- Barry Fagin is senior fellow in technology at the Independence Institute, a free-market think tank in Denver.