(In response to my post below about election probabilities, Jay left some thoughtful comments about political competition. I was going to leave some comments of my own in response, but things got out of hand and I decided to turn my comments into the post which you are now reading.)
I am libertarian in most respects but have always thought that the Libertarian Party had an institutional screw loose on foreign and defense issues. For some unfathomable reason the admirable concept of “it’s wrong to initiate force” has been mistranslated into “we must not defend ourselves as a nation until enemy parachutists are landing on the White House lawn” (or whatever the post-9/11 equivalent of this notion is).
Anybody with a sense of history knows that this view is naive in the extreme. Or to rephrase it charitably, this should be seen as a question of tactics rather than principles: is it more effective to fight preemptively or reactively?
By insisting that preemptive-defense doctrines are inherently wrong, the LP types have effectively removed themselves from the national debate. Not only that, some of them have dug themselves deeper into the hole by insisting that we share responsibility for our being attacked. For example, I used to like listening to Harry Browne. Then he came out after Sept. 11 with a “why do they hate us?” column. Now I think he’s a smug fool who completely misses the seriousness of the current situation and the change in national mood. There is no way that I would consider him, or anyone like him, seriously as a national candidate again. (George W. Bush, for all of his flaws, understands these issues well, which helps to explain why he is President and the LP types, as well as many high-level Democrats, remain marginal.)
9/11 made clear to me (it was probably already clear to everyone else) that too many self-described libertarian pols and activists are cranks and malcontents who lack the political skill to be effective. The most politically able libertarian politicians now are Republicans, which leaves the LP populated by ineptizoids.
I wish the Democrats could effectively challenge the Republican Party on issues, but they can’t. The Democrats are still mainly a coalition of unrelated, govt-dependent interest groups and are unable seriously to articulate principles (they can do it falsely and cynically, but everyone sees through it). I think, and have blogged (as have others), that the Democrats could make themselves more broadly attractive by challenging the Republicans on civil liberties grounds.
But it seems unlikely that they will do so in the foreseeable future, and I would be unwilling to support them unless they made such a radical change. Ever since I came of political age, the Democrats have been the party of high taxes, of hostility to the self-employed and small business, of gun bans, and of quotas and racial preferences that penalize Jews and members of other nonpreferred groups. The Republicans are inadequate in many ways, but as a self-employed Jewish gun owner my impression of the Democratic Party is that it considers people like me to be class enemies. The Dems have a tough sell ahead of them if they want my support.
I share Jay’s desire for more political competition. I just don’t know where it’s going to come from.
UPDATE: I should have added, in case it’s not obvious, that a significant part of my antipathy toward the Democratic Party comes from its reflexive (since about 1972) blame-America-first attitude, and its effective repudiation of the use of force in the national interest. Thus many Democrats who are serious about defense became Republicans, in much the same way, though on a bigger scale, as have libertarians who are serious about defense. Democratic candidates, even more than Libertarians (who do not represent a major party), would be much more viable politically if they were robustly pro-defense. So for want of serious alternatives we are left with the Republican Party as the only intellectually dynamic and diverse major political party. Perhaps, as Tom Bridgeland suggests in the comments, it will also be the source of the political alternatives that Jay and I seek.