What Happens When Libertarians Win High Office
Myth: If a Libertarian is elected, government will devolve into anarchy and chaos.
Let's start large. Let's get way out there in the hypothetical and say LP presidential candidate Michael Badnarik pulls the greatest upset in the history of the Republic, and wins a majority in the Electoral College. What happens next? Libertarians are opposed to most government spending. Won't it immediately stop?
No. While the President has the ability to veto any spending bill that crosses his desk, President Badnarik would face the very strong possibility that the Congress would override his veto. The words President Badnarik chooses to explain his veto would be crucial. If he says, "I will veto any bill that does not eliminate 90% of all spending," he can be assured that his veto would be overriden. The Democrats and Republicans at long last would sing "Kumbaya" on Capitol Hill with a new sense of common ground. However, if Badnarik took a much more reasonable approach, saying, " I will veto any bill that does not reduce spending by 5%," he would probably win the day. The Congress must be negoiated with, no matter which party the President is from. This is one of the checks and balances.
The same logic applies to any states gubernatorial races. If Kenn Gividen should win in Indiana, he would have very little ability to turn the place upside down. A Libertarian President or Governor would have little choice but to work in coalition with the other parties on an issue-by-issue basis, or he would suffer being run roughshod over by the various houses of the legislatures.
Let's go to the Congress. Let's say Libertarian Senatorial candidate Al Barger pulls the upset of the century, snagging38% of the vote, with Evan Bayh (D) taking 37% and Marvin Scott (R) getting 25%. Unless there are other upsets-of-the-century in other states, and assuming that all other seats stay the same (less Bayh's loss), there would then be 1 Libertarian, 1 Independent (Jeffords), 47 Democrats, and 51 Republicans. List of US Senators. You could expect virtually no change in policy outcomes. Any time the GOP wanted to vote strictly along party lines, it could still arrive at a simple majority, so long as their Senators played along. Barger could make life interesting by introducing bills, or by speaking on the floor. Simply introducing a bill does not assure that it would ever be voted on. If there aren't enough co-sponsors, or isn't enough general support, it might never come out of committee- assuming it got that far at all.
At the House of Representatives, one Libertarian is even more diffused, as there are 435 US Reps.
By now, rather than potential chaos at the hands of a Libertarian, you probably see futility. That's one of the beautiful things about the nature of American government. No one person can run much of anything through alone.
A President needs the broad backing of the legislature and the American people, and it doesn't matter what party that President comes from. A maverick President cannot be. The President must build coalition and win support. President Clinton learned this lesson early in his first term. He tried to make an issue of gay Americans serving in the military, but he quickly found out that he did not have broad support. No matter the depth of his convictions, he could not have ram-rodded policy into place. His own party heard from the citizens back home and let Clinton know that he was barking up the wrong tree. President Bush is seen as a go-it-alone President, but the fact is, he had enough support in the Congress and with the American people to take the country to war. If the legislators from either party- Republican or Democrat- had heard sufficient opposition to the war, they would have reacted accordingly: Democrats emboldened, Republicans weak at the knees. That it hasn't happened even yet explains why Bush marches on, and Kerry describes his 'anti-war' approach as adding more troops, spending more money, and bring more nations on board.
So, why bother voting for someone who can't run an agenda through? Because there is more to the game than running an agenda in immediately.
The President has the bully pulpit. When he speaks, people listen worldwide. Ronald Reagan taught any President how to defeat the Congress: Take your plan to the people first. If they support it broadly, the Congress is in a tough spot to be against it. Astute Presidents select slam-dunk issues in their first 100 days so as to build trust with the Congress and the American people. President Badnarik would have to be more politically astute than any President to have proceeded him because you have to bet that both parties would relish the opportunity to take him down. It might involve building coalition with a majority party in one of the houses. It might be acting on extremely safe initiatives- if any could be called that.
A Badnarik victory would send a huge message to Democrats and Republicans. It could mean that there was an issue Badnarik enunciated more clearly than the others; or he was on the side of an important issue both of the other candidates were on the other side of (the war again comes to mind); or the major parties alienated their bases sufficiently that enough went to Badnarik in protest. In any case, the strategists for the parties would have to analyze why things went as they did. They would learn to re-claim the issues they muffed, or the bases they alienated. They would have to, or lose them forever.
Of course, there is the craziest reason to vote Libertarian of all: you believe in the libertarian philosophy, and would exercise your conscience.
Libertarians can win high office, especially if that happens.