Liberty is a guiding philosophy and an ideal. Guiding philosophies and ideals are great for organizations, and liberty above all else is a perfect guiding philosophy for the Libertarian Party.
But the goal of candidates should be improving the lives of their constituents. Improving lives necessitates the defense of existing liberties, the restoration of liberties infringed upon, and in some cases the creation of new rights (eg, the right to digital privacy from government).
When the mission of an organization is liberty, any given individual disagreeing with the organization is not a major concern. It’s a tent, which means people have to be willing to enter it. And there’s two parts to that: we have to be willing to accept that some people don’t fit, and refrain from forcing them to enter or forcing the organization to change to fit them, and we also have to be willing to do things to make the tent inviting.
When the mission of an individual candidate is improving lives, every individual matters because every individual is an opportunity to receive a very finite resource in the form of their vote. Questions about how their life will be improved have to be met with answers about how their life will improve. Sometimes they won’t agree with the answer and they’ll vote for someone else, but at least it’s not because you tried to twist their arm into agreeing with you philosophically. They only have to agree with you on a functional level that your policies (which, again, are based upon the ideal of liberty) are going to improve their lives. They don’t have to pick up a book by Hayek or Mises; they don’t have to be spiritually moved by “Economics in One Lesson.” You just have to convince them that your solutions will work.
In contrast to a prospective volunteer or donor, voters are geographically restricted and limited in number. When the National Libertarian Party recruits members or solicits donations for additional volunteer hands or revenue and any given individual says “no,” the Party can move on to whoever’s next on the list and ask them the very same question, no matter where they live or (given they’re under the max contribution) even if they’ve donated once before. When a voter says no, the candidate is moving a point from their column into someone else’s, and to regain that one voter they actually need two more votes out of a pool that’s just shrunk by one.
It’s not just about “meeting voters where they are.” It’s, in a much more literal sense, about putting your own cares and interests on the back burner and caring about what they care about instead, because forcing them to care about what you care about won’t work and isn’t right. Sure, your solution is guided by a deep philosophical commitment to liberty, but questions on how things will be better can’t be answered about how they’ll be freer, because better and freer aren’t necessarily synonyms to someone who’s hurting. “Abolish it and replace it with nothing” frequently finds its (valid) place. Abolishing drug criminalization and replacing it with nothing is the solution for those constituents who want drugs legalized, and their family members and friends who may be incarcerated released.
A parent who asks what the Libertarian solution to poor education in their area is cannot simply be told “abolish the public school system,” even if abolishing the public school system is a step in the process toward reaching better. What comes after, what’s actually better, must be the answer. Not the removal of the bad, the replacement with the good.
This isn’t simply “messaging.” This is an entire communication strategy. It’s not about sugar-coating liberty, it’s not about refusing to admit some hard truths about what absolutely needs to be abolished or cut, and it’s not about “selling liberty.” It’s about completely decentering our own egos and describing how life will be better, for them.
Richard Manzo is Operations Director of the Libertarian Policy Institute. An elected official in Goffstown, New Hampshire, Richard serves as a member of the budget committee and the trust fund trustees. He formerly served as a trustee of the historic Goffstown Public Library and New England regional director of the Jorgensen for President campaign.