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smoovegeek

Libertarian Party

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I have often been puzzled by AR's (and ARI's) pronouncements on political action, especially regarding "third parties."

For example, in PWNI, Rand states:

"Above all, do not join the wrong ideological groups or movements, in order to "do something." By "ideological" (in this context), I mean groups or movements proclaiming some vaguely generalized, undefined (and, usually, contradictory) political goals. (E.g., the Conservative Party, which subordinates reason to faith, and substitutes theocracy for capitalism; or the "libertarian" hippies, who subordinate reason to whims, and substitute anarchism for capitalism.) To join such groups means to reverse the philosophical hierarchy and to sell out fundamental principles for the sake of some superficial political action which is bound to fail."

This quote encapsulates the two main objections I have encountered in official Objectivist literature:

Objection 1: That one should not support a political organization, campaign or movement that is not soundly based on solid principles (Objectivist philosophy?).

Objection 2: Fringe movements are doomed to failure (you're throwing your vote away).

I can see why Rand did not vote in the 1980 presidential election, with this view. However, now there is discussion about supporting the lesser of two evils---Peikoff's rather unenthusiastic endorsement of Kerry, and other Objectivists' equally lukewarm support of Bush.

We are debating whether to throw our hats in the ring of the intrinsicist, vaguely theocratic GOP or the subjectivist, multiculturalist Democratic Party. Both have proven themselves tremendously anti-capitalist; both have demonstrated their commitment to "vaguely generalized, undefined and usually contradictory" political goals.

What has changed in orthodox Objectivism to produce such a strange phenomenon?

I'm sure you've been waiting to see how long it takes me to bring up the Libertarian Party. Let me first say that I am not a member, and I find the party to be distressingly lacking in philosophical support. I certainly disagree with some of their political goals.

On the other hand, this applies in spades to the Republicans and the Democrats, or at the very least Bush and Kerry. I can find much, much more to be disgusted and alarmed about with their stated goals, past performance, and ideology than I can with any Libertarian candidate I have seen.

So why is ARI still vehemently opposed to the Libertarian Party? The first objection I identified above seems to me to no longer apply. Since I don't have the luxury here of a real-time dialogue, I will move on to the second objection identified above.

"You're throwing your vote away."

I think this is a very short-sighted thing to say. It seems to me to be awfully cynical. Of course I harbor no illusion that the Libertarian candidate will win the presidency. I very much doubt he does either. However, the more people vote for third party candidates, the more the major parties will shift to capture those votes. Libertarians have "spoiled" local elections in a few states, and it is the Republicans' fondest hope that Nader will spoil the 2004 election, drawing crucial votes away from Kerry.

In this age of photo finishes at the polling booths, a movement to support alternatives to the major parties can, if it gathers enough steam, bring those parties to heel. Personally, I would love to see a scenario where the Democrats moved further towards the sort of wacky populist socialism that Nader represents and the Republicans moved further towards the commitment to constitutional government, individual rights and laissez-faire capitalism that the Libertarians represent.

I would contend that Objectivists, as long as they are thinking about choosing the lesser of two evils, would do better to consider the lesser of three evils.

What do you think?

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First off, I praise your courage to write such a well-written, well-thought-out post, which raises many valid questions.

As a staunch capitalist, and a fan of objectivism, I agree with Rand's statement regarding joining political groups.

The only justification for registering with a major party is out of convenience, that you may vote in their primaries.

You needn't be altogether concerned with whether an individual is a Republican or a Democrat per se. You need to be more concerned with their views, and there is no better litmus test than their application of individual rights and capitalism.

I have found, especially on the local levels, qualified candidates from both parties.

Once one gets into a voting booth, it is no one's business who one votes for. You vote for the candidate you feel is most qualified for a particular position.

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Someone asked a similar question on Diana Hsieh's forum and here's how I responded:

I don't really want to get into a detailed debate on the mish/mash of a "philosophy" which is at the root of libertarianism, but in relation to Peter Schwartz's critique of it, it is instructive to take a look at the Libertarian Party platform:

http://www.lp.org/issues/platform/execsumm.html

I draw your attention to the following:

First, their courageous and clearly stated position on a woman's right to an abortion:

"Individual rights should not be denied or abridged on the basis of sex. Recognizing that abortion is a very sensitive issue and that people, including libertarians, can hold good-faith views on both sides, we believe the government should be kept out of the question."

Being very sensitive to the theocratic, medieval view that women's bodies are not their property and that abortion is murder, how exactly can a libertarian justify the gov't staying out of it?

Perhaps on this basis:

"Secession:

We recognize the right to political secession by political entities, private groups, or individuals."

Thus abortion opponents secede and form their own Fundamentalist Christian and/or Islamic Theocratic Libertarian gov't which, sensitive to the rights of fetuses and the initiation of force directed at them, imprisons and executes women and their doctors who perform abortions.

However, sensitive to the fact that people can hold good-faith views on both sides, presumably women with the impassioned conviction of their right to abortion can secede and form their own gov't and go to war against those who want to deny them that right.

And thus sensitive to both sides and thoroughly open-minded on the subject (not like those authoritarian and dogmatic ARIians), libertarians can watch the two sides slaughter each other.

Should they try and stop them? Not at all. Besides, how could you when you have sensitive libertarians with good-faith differences busily slaughtering each other.

Furthermore:

" Colonialism

We favor immediate self-determination for all people living in colonial dependencies..."

Note there is no requirement that such "self-determination" involve any principles of freedom. It can apply as much to the American Revolution in the name of individual rights as to Castro's Cuba in the name of totalitarian collectivism. To a libertarian apparently there is no difference.

And how do we deal with foreign gov'ts which pose a threat to our interests:

"Foreign Intervention

We would end the current U.S. government policy of foreign intervention, including military and economic aid, guarantees, and diplomatic meddling. We make no exceptions."

Incidentally, if you have ever argued with libertarians as often as I have you will discover that many of them think we are to blame for WW2 and it was our fault that Japan bombed Pearl Harbor (how dare we interfere with their desire to take over the Far East) and the South was right in the Civil War (who are we to say that slavery is wrong - so much for their commitment to the non-initiation of force).

As regards Peter Schwartz's essay: QED.

And at the risk of using that now maligned expression on this forum:

Enough said.

Fred Weiss

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Thanks for your replies. I appreciate it.

Fred:

I share your distaste of those planks of the LP platform, and the lack of solid grounding for them.

However, I challenge you to find less to be concerned about in the GOP or Democratic platforms. As I've said, as long as we're considering taking action in behalf of a major party candidate, why not consider the LP?

As far as crazy Libertarians go, I think that's painting them with a pretty broad brush. I've talked to some far out ones, yes, but I've also talked to and listened to some pretty lucent ones. Let's not forget that a large wing of the LP are Objectivist sympathizers.

I think that Schwartz's essay has some good points, but he does much the same thing. He focuses on the Rothbard anarcho-capitalists and the hippies in the party, which may have constituted more of the movement at the time the essay was written, but have not been a major force in the party in at least the past decade or so. I really would love to reread the essay so I could give it a better response---I'm working from memory here---but I've lent out my copy of The Voice of Reason.

I could certainly understand a refusal to deal with the LP on philosophical grounds if Objectivists abstained from political action altogether, but to ostracize them for reasons that we do not apply to other political parties is beyond my ability to provide rational support for. This is why I wanted to start a dialogue on the subject.

Perhaps it could be argued that we should only support a candidate who could actually win. As the debate in the Peikoff For Kerry? forum shows, even very intelligent and rational people are unable to reach a consensus on which would be worse for the country. Additionally, if we vote for Bush or Kerry, we provide them with a mandate for their destructive policies. If the LP wins a higher percentage of the vote than they have before, and especially if they spoil the election for Bush, the Republicans will have to take a look at what the LP is offering. True, a good portion of the LP's ideas are bad; however, they are not as bad as the Republican's bad ideas, and their good ideas are much, much better.

Let's examine some purely hypothetical 2004 election results. Just for fun, let's say the Objectivists who can all agree on how to cast their ballots are 1% of the vote.

Scenario A. Objectivists vote for Kerry:

Kerry 49%

Bush 46%

Nader 3%

Badnarik 1%

misc. 1%

Scenario B. Objectivists vote for Badnarik:

Kerry 48%

Bush 46%

Nader 3%

Badnarik 2%

misc. 1%

In Scenario B, the RNC is going to pay a lot of attention to how that 2% got away. If this trend continues in 2008 etc., the LP's more "moderate" ideas will begin to find a home in the GOP platform as the GOP tries to woo the "fringe" voters with a combination of ideas they value and plain electability. Is it better to argue Kerry or Bush or to take a more long range view? You tell me.

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I think that Schwartz's essay has some good points, but he does much the same thing. He focuses on the Rothbard anarcho-capitalists and the hippies in the party, which may have constituted more of the movement at the time the essay was written, but have not been a major force in the party in at least the past decade or so. I really would love to reread the essay so I could give it a better response---I'm working from memory here---but I've lent out my copy of The Voice of Reason.

I could certainly understand a refusal to deal with the LP on philosophical grounds if Objectivists abstained from political action altogether, but to ostracize them for reasons that we do not apply to other political parties is beyond my ability to provide rational support for. This is why I wanted to start a dialogue on the subject.

It seems as though you are not making a clear distinction between joining a political party and simply voting for one. The purpose of Schwartz's essay is to convince Objectivists not to join the LP by sheding light on its true nature. The reason for not joining the LP is equally applicable to the Republican and Democratic parties. But no one here is advocating joining the Republicans or Democrats. The issue is: which to vote for, not which to join.

Perhaps it could be argued that we should only support a candidate who could actually win.
When the question is, "Which candidate will run the country at the end of this election?", the LP doesn't make the cut. However unfortunate it may be, for the comming election the choice is between Kerry and Bush. If you have enough facts to determine that one of these real choices is better than the other, then you vote for that option. This does NOT imply that you support their ideas nor does it imply that you "provide them with a mandate for their destructive policies". You are simpling minimizing the damage you are to suffer.

True, a good portion of the LP's ideas are bad; however, they are not as bad as the Republican's bad ideas, and their good ideas are much, much better.

Recognize the reality of the choice you are confronted with, that the LP is NOT an option. Thus, any discussion on the LP being better or worse than the Republicans or Democrats has no bearing on the upcomming election.

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Andrew:

Your point on joining vs. voting is well-taken. I would not advocate joining the LP, but I still think voting for an LP candidate can be a rational choice.

How would you respond to my theory that voting for an LP candidate would have a more beneficial result in the long term? Maybe I didn't fully explain this.

Voting for Kerry is pushing Bush away from the White House. Voting for Bush is pushing Kerry away from the White House. However, voting for Badnarik is pulling the Republicans away from statist policies toward more (small-L) libertarian policies. The Republican Party has been drifting leftward for years.

In the short term, voting for Bush or Kerry may accomplish something nominally desirable, but where does that leave us in 2008 and further down the line? We will still be debating which candidate poses less of a threat. In the long term, nothing changes.

Shouldn't we, as people committed to reason, plan long range?

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However, I challenge you to find less to be concerned about in the GOP or Democratic platforms.

LP: Good economic policy, good social policy, bad foreign policy.

GOP: Good economic policy, good foreign policy, bad social policy.

Dems: Good social policy, bad economic policy, bad foreign policy.

Let's not forget that a large wing of the LP are Objectivist sympathizers.

Couldn't you say the same thing about Republicans? Rush Limbaugh has quoted Ayn Rand on several occaisons and has links on his website to her books. I can't provide any rock-solid statistics, but it is my experience that many Republicans admire Ayn Rand for her work on capitalism.

You might suggest that religion has an adverse affect on their opinions concerning social issues (Piekoff thinks it's apocolyptically bad), but I think it's a mistake to think that most Republicans have a fundamentalist Christian agenda. I don't know if this is correct, but the Republican Majority for Choice website claims that "73% of Republicans believe that the right to choose should be a woman's decision, not the government's."

Even if that statistic isn't isn't correct, I'm confident that Objectivism can succeed within the Republican party. Even if you can convince Libertarians to stop being weak-kneed peaceniks, you still have their pitiful numbers to deal with.

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How would you respond to my theory that voting for an LP candidate would have a more beneficial result in the long term? Maybe I didn't fully explain this.

Voting for Kerry is pushing Bush away from the White House. Voting for Bush is pushing Kerry away from the White House. However, voting for Badnarik is pulling the Republicans away from statist policies toward more (small-L) libertarian policies. The Republican Party has been drifting leftward for years.

In the short term, voting for Bush or Kerry may accomplish something nominally desirable, but where does that leave us in 2008 and further down the line? We will still be debating which candidate poses less of a threat. In the long term, nothing changes.

Shouldn't we, as people committed to reason, plan long range?

Yes, but not at the expense of destrying yourself short-term on behalf of the Libertarian Party. Why can't someone look out for their interest short range AND long range? I don't agree that voting for Libertarian is in my long rang interest at all. There are better ways to fight for capitalism than to manipulate the Republican party to adopt more Libertarian policies. Why not shout for 'real' Capitalism to everyone?

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LP: Good economic policy, good social policy, bad foreign policy.

GOP: Good economic policy, good foreign policy, bad social policy.

Dems: Good social policy, bad economic policy, bad foreign policy.

How are you differentiating between economic and social policy? Either you're free or you're not, No?

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Republicans? Good economic policy? Maybe marginally better than Democratic policy, but an Objectivist and a Libertarian have much more in common in this department than an Objectivist and a Republican. Let's take a look at just a few Republican economic policies in recent memory:

1. Bush Sr.'s famous tax-hike ("Read my lips")

2. The 1994 Republican Congress' capitulation to the Democrats (Breaching the Contract with America)

3. Republican opposition to W's miniscule tax cuts

4. W's attempt at protectionism via enormous steel tariffs (Thankfully reversed)

5. W's signing off on social spending increases while running up the deficit (Is there a veto in the house?)

6. Speaking of social spending, how about the new Medicare prescription drug benefit? (Take that, present and future taxpayers---not to mention pharmaceutical companies!)

The Republicans of today, economically speaking, are acting like Carter Democrats.

If libertarian economic policy were followed, these economic disasters would never have occurred. In fact, the income tax and social spending would be eliminated altogether.

I would say the Democrats have a nightmarish economic policy, the Republicans a bad economic policy, and the Libertarians a great economic policy.

I'd have to concede the bad foreign policy, but you're bound to get some bad no matter who you go with. Who's closer to Objectivist ideals overall?

Again, I'm not suggesting we abandon the major parties; I'm suggesting we cause them to reevaluate their policies by voting for alternatives.

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"Shouting for real capitalism" is even more ineffective in the short term than voting for a third party. Shouting for real capitalism while voting for Bush or Kerry borders on the absurd.

Of course, the best way to change things is to influence the culture. We all, I'm sure, are doing what we can in that respect, but there's still a long way to go before major political candidates start quoting Atlas Shrugged in their campaign speeches.

What I'm talking about is purely political action right now, which is a direction Dr. Peikoff has opened up.

Of course it would be nice to have great short term AND long term results. Unfortunately, voting for a major party candidate in this election can only give us the possibility of slightly less awful short term results while doing nothing in the long term.

I think the GOP seeing their constituency slowly drain away towards more pro-liberty candidates will give us great results in the long term (i.e., more pro-liberty candidates, and eventually electable ones). So, between slightly less awful for four years, then starting all over again, and progressively great for the future, I think the choice is clear.

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Incidentally, if you have ever argued with libertarians as often as I have you will discover that many of them think we are to blame for WW2 and it was our fault that Japan bombed Pearl Harbor (how dare we interfere with their desire to take over the Far East) and the South was right in the Civil War (who are we to say that slavery is wrong - so much for their commitment to the non-initiation of force).

Can I just add that, over at Capmag, the rise of the Nazis has been blamed on America's intervention in the first world war.

This libertarian went ballistic when I suggested that the blame for Hitler lay squarely on the Germans. 100% so in fact.

On another forum, the Pearl Harbour point was made and blamed on the fact that America had the effrontery to have allies. So America shouldn't bother with it's own foreign policy according to these people.

I have read, from Lew Rockwell, an article critical of President Truman's policy towards a country which had previously been a key ally of America only a few years before. It was the U.S.S.R. under Josef Stalin. :dough:

No more need be said.

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How are you differentiating between economic and social policy? Either you're free or you're not, No?

The same way I differentiate mind and body, the right to liberty (the thoughts and choices and actions) and the right to property (the resulting material things). Far right Republicans want to control the former, and far left Democrats want to control the latter.

Republicans? Good economic policy? Maybe marginally better than Democratic policy, but an Objectivist and a Libertarian have much more in common in this department than an Objectivist and a Republican. Let's take a look at just a few Republican economic policies in recent memory:

I'm not talking about specific Republicans. The party in general is in support of tax cuts, personal responsibility, privatizing social security and healthcare, etc. I was watching a Conservative Student Conference on C-SPAN, in which there was one speaker who was talking about the liberal bias in textbooks. Upon being asked what he thinks the solution to it should be, he said we should privatize schools -- the room exploded in applause.

Republican leaders have only half-fulfilled these general sympathies within their own party. We are in dire need of a new wave of rugged leaders who are principled enough to defy the left all the time. The grounds for change are fertile; it is no time to run off into hopeless splinter groups.

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Oakes:

I admire your optimism. On the other hand, keep in mind that a Conservative Student Conference is not the same as a Republican one. I would venture to guess there were a lot of libertarians in that crowd, or P.J. O'Rourke style Republicans at the very least.

Reagan gave us the federal Department of Education, which Newt Gingrich and his ragtag band of radical Republicans swore to dismantle. The Democrats said Republicans wanted to kill our children, so the Republicans backed down from their agenda. You see, most politicians are mainly concerned with being reelected. Bush Sr. gave us Head Start. W ran in 2000 partly on a platform of increased federal education spending.

Things are not headed in the right direction with the GOP. They alternate between pandering to the religious right (allegedly half of the party) and trying to attract more Democratic voters by expanding government programs (and creating new ones).

I hope we see a Howard Roark run for office too. Alas, though, this year the Republicans have offered us George W. Bush. When the GOP fields a "rugged leader" who wants to privatize education, repeal the income tax, reduce the federal government to its constitutional functions, take the Bill of Rights seriously, separate church and state, etc., you can be sure I will vote for that candidate.

I just don't think communicating that we like Bush (or that we like Kerry better than Bush) is going to make that scenario likely.

In an age when the electorate is split nearly 50/50, we're not going to see any mavericks from the pragmatic major parties.

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smoovegeek,

You have clearly demonstrated that GWB and other Republican leaders have given in to the leftists on several occaisons -- can't argue with that. We also know that they tend to invite religion into politics. The only way I see these problems changing is with advocacy and grassroots movements to elect Objectivist Republicans. The goal is to praise Republicans for their strengths, and to point out their weaknesses to stimulate change. In my opinion, the hurdles to getting an Objectivist Republican into political office amount to much less than the hurdles to getting an Objectivist Libertarian into office. So I think the GOP is where our long-term interests lie as well as short-term.

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But where is the Objectivist Republican in the short term? I'm not laboring under any illusion that a Libertarian, Objectivist or not, will hold any major political office in the foreseeable future. I'm not trying to get a Libertarian elected. I'm suggesting voting LP to influence the GOP.

I think the GOP is our best bet in the long term too, but only if we can pull them back from their current strategy of chasing religious right and moderate left voters---and that means showing them that advocates of laissez-faire capitalism are their true base by overtly refusing to sanction their present course.

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But where is the Objectivist Republican in the short term?

Some have been advisors and speechwriters in the White House.

Some of have run for office. William Westmiller ran for Congress in my district a few years ago.

Some have key positions in local Republican organizations such as Educational Chairman or Editor of the county Republican magazine.

Some are in Objectivist-only Young Republican Clubs like the Metropolitan Young Republican Club my husband and I belonged to in NYC in the 1960s.

I'm not laboring under any illusion that a Libertarian, Objectivist or not, will hold any major political office in the foreseeable future.
Many Objectivist Sympathizers, like Chris Cox (R-CA) are in the Senate and the House. I feature them regularly in my CyberNet.

I'm not trying to get a Libertarian elected. I'm suggesting voting LP to influence the GOP.

Why should the GOP pay any attention to a third party that gets way fewer votes than the Greens?

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But where is the Objectivist Republican in the short term? I'm not laboring under any illusion that a Libertarian, Objectivist or not, will hold any major political office in the foreseeable future. I'm not trying to get a Libertarian elected. I'm suggesting voting LP to influence the GOP.

I don't understand how it would influence the GOP. Perhaps the LP platform will be talked about more if it receives a greater number of voters, but that's about it. It seems far-fetched to think that if the LP can grow to something noticeable, Republican leaders will try to be more laissez-faire to attract them. If it turns out that they do, they'll also try to be more pacifist.

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smoovegeek, I agree with Oakas completely here. I don't see how voting for LP is going to significantly influence the Republican Party. Even if it could, I don't agree that it would be to our advantage to have them influenced by the Libertarian Party. Your proposal seems like a very round-about way to accompliish what you want, with no convincing evidence provided that it would in fact accomplish what you want.

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It seems that all objectivists are picking their candidates based on whom they view to be the lesser of the evils. In that case, isn’t the Libertarian Party the best choice? Is some of the Libertarian platform appalling? Yes. Will the party win the ticket? Not a chance. But, relative to the other parties, the Libertarian Party has the best overall record. Therefore, they are the lesser of the evils, and should be picked.

Shouldn’t one be voting strictly on principle? If one party conforms most to what you believe in, then shouldn’t you automatically pick that one, regardless of its chances of success?

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Shouldn’t one be voting strictly on principle?  If one party conforms most to what you believe in, then shouldn’t you automatically pick that one, regardless of its chances of success?

I have been rethinking this topic. I am no longer certain about what I was saying earlier.

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In a situation where the percentage of the votes for parties like Nader and the Libertarians is so low, it is pointless voting for them. If you think they're the best alternative (which I do not) then support them... upto the time you have to vote. Don't waste your vote.

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Shouldn’t one be voting strictly on principle? If one party conforms most to what you believe in, then shouldn’t you automatically pick that one, regardless of its chances of success?

Yes, you should vote on principle, but that principle is self-interest. Whether or not they agree with you on the issues is definitely an important consideration, but it isn't the only one. To vote for someone who has no chance of winning is not in your self-interest; it means one less vote for the next best candidate that might actually win.

Now, if both major parties were stringently statist or theocratic, both sure to take away your freedom forever, a desperate effort to promote some liberty-loving third party with .5% of the vote would be warrented. But I don't see things that way. The GOP already generally believes in tax cuts and limited government, even if its leaders don't always live up to it. The GOP already generally believes in strong foreign policy, even if its leaders don't always live up to it. And plenty of GOP politicians, like Governor Aaaanold, take pro-liberty stances on social issues.

We don't need a new party, we just need the right leader to come along.

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My stance is back where it was before: Kerry or Bush, but do not waste votes by voting LP or by not voting at all. I agree with Oakes that the only time to vote for a candidate with no chance at election would be if that party is entierly consistent with your political philosophy.

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