AUGUST 11, 2016
With an election coming up, especially given the rising dissatisfaction with the extreme partisanship exhibited by our two party system in Washington in recent years, I thought it might be an appropriate time to discuss whether a third party may ever become an enduring force in American politics. In the past 22 presidential elections spanning more than 80 years only 3 third party candidates (4 elections) have received more than 3% of the popular vote.
1996: Ross Perot – Reform Party – 8.4% (0 electoral)
1992: Ross Perot – Independent – 18.9% (0 electoral)
1980: John Anderson – Independent – 6.6% (0 electoral)
1948: George Wallace – Independent – 13.5% (46 electoral – won 5 states)
In each year since 1948 (except in 2000) all other 3rd Party candidates combined received less than 2% of the popular vote. In 2012 the Libertarian Party candidate received all of 1, 275,951 votes (O.99%), yet it is now perceived as the 3rd largest party in the country. Two ex-governors, Gary Johnson (Pres.) and William Weld ( VP), its candidates, are starting to gain more attention this year than in the past – which leads me to the question: what is a libertarian? I’m not sure many people know. Or care. But I think it worthwhile to know something about this possible future movement before denigrating it as just a bunch of crazies.
The term originates from the French word “libertaire”, which in French means anarchist, defined in Webster’s as someone who rejects the need for any government in society. Because espoused libertarians in this country are known to favor lower taxes and less government they are often categorized as hard right wingers. But when it comes to many social issues, civil liberties and defense policy, their stance is often attuned to the most progressive of left wing liberals. This philosophy, which does not fall simply into a right-wing, left-wing, or centrist category, confuses many who have only heard a self- professed Libertarian spout off on one particular issue or another. Being a small, relatively new party, its views have been coalescing over the years: some state party platforms are short, some long; some benign, some radical. Perhaps the fairest way to describe a libertarian today is to describe its 2016 national party platform, an obvious compromise among its many members. While it cannot be condensed into a few words, the platform is so much shorter than that of either the Democratic or Republican parties it can actually be read in about 5 minutes. A copy for those further interested follows: