When one of us identifies oneself as a Libertarian, one common response is, “You guys scare me! You want to do away with [insert favorite federal government program].” Most Libertarians do indeed see the elimination of almost all government programs as the ultimate goal. Minarchists (also known as minimal statists) and constitutionalists want to reduce government back down to fit within constitutional limits. The anarchist-capitalists among us would rather eliminate government entirely.
Although this statement might be true, most Libertarians and the overwhelming majority of party activists and candidates recognize that the road to minimal government is a long one. Yes, the Federal government is a bloated, unwieldy beast, crammed full of useless, redundant, and unconstitutional programs. But much as we might wish otherwise, from a practical standpoint, our immediate goal must be reduction, not elimination.
Non-Libertarians greatest fear about Libertarians, the elimination of their favorite pet-program, is unfounded. It has taken decades (almost a century!) to build the huge edifice of meddling Federal programs. That edifice cannot be torn down in a day, or a year, or even a few short years. The elimination of almost any program will take years or even decades to completely accomplish.
At this point, it is unrealistic to play the ‘elimination card’ when talking with a Libertarian. Everyone, both Libertarians and members of the legacy parties, knows that it would be impossible to eliminate any major program within the first or second term of any officeholder’s tenure. To eliminate any of them, Libertarians in office would need the cooperation of both legacy parties, but the current truly pro-liberty presence in Congress is minuscule at best.
Both Republicans and Democrats have their sacred cows. Republicans want to preserve – even increase – the wasteful and excessive spending on the military. Democrats feel likewise about social programs like Medicaid and welfare. We are a threat to their goals, all of them. We Libertarians have no sacred cows, no “untouchable” programs. We understand that each and every branch and program of the Federal government is a runaway train, going faster and faster, totally out of control. No federal program is off-limits for Libertarians. They all need to be reduced.
Even if the legacy parties’ officeholders were ready for eliminations, the voters, in most cases, are not. That same century or so of bloating, encroaching government has created dependency or at the very least, the illusion that one cannot survive without Big Government, in the minds of too many of our fellow citizens.
The appropriate discussion between us and the legacy parties should start with halting increases in spending. Once we accomplish this, we can begin to talk about how reduction should occur and how fast it may be done.
But before that, we need to move beyond talk of elimination. Libertarians and those who support the legacy parties are coming from two different places. There is misunderstanding, and we get that. We understand that we must work for what we can get before we can, someday, get what we want.
by Michael Smith – Secretary of the Libertarian Party of Broward County