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December 6, 2001

The Libertarian Party: Still Going Strong at 30
by David Nolan

It seems hard to believe that 30 years have passed since a small group of young idealists, most of us just out of college, met in Colorado Springs to launch the Libertarian Party.

Our inspirations ranged from Thomas Jefferson and John Stuart Mill to Ayn Rand and Robert Heinlein. We were passionate in our belief that no individual should be sacrificed to satisfy some collective "need" or plan; that all people should be free to pursue their own dreams in their own way, so long as they do not use force or fraud to harm others.

The ideal of individual liberty is an age-old dream, but one which has been violated by governments throughout human history, and our hardy group saw that neither of the two major American parties was true to that vision. Republican and Democratic politicians give occasional lip service to individual rights and liberty, but they are only too willing to violate those rights to attain their goal of the moment.

And it is our unswerving devotion to individual liberty, I believe, that has given the Libertarian Party its enduring strength. That strength has enabled it to grow despite the strong institutional bias toward a "two-party system" -- not mentioned, by the way, in any of our nation's founding documents.

Currently, there are 240,000 voters registered as Libertarians, and 298 Libertarians hold elective office, more than all other third parties combined.

According to research by Richard Winger, one of the most respected third-party experts in the country, the Libertarian Party is the most successful alternative party of the past half-century. Winger found that Libertarians accounted for the largest number of gubernatorial and Senatorial candidates obtaining the highest percentages in races from 1948 through 2000 -- more than the Reform Party, the Greens, or George Wallace's American Independent Party.

Last year, 256 Libertarians ran for the U.S. House -- the first time in 80 years that any third party had contested a majority of Congressional seats. And they polled a total of 1.7 million votes, the largest number ever received by any third party slate. In Massachusetts, U.S. Senate candidate Carla Howell received 12 percent of the vote in a three-way race, coming within a point or two of beating the Republican!

The Libertarian Party has helped to fundamentally shift the nature of American political debate -- even though it has yet to elect a member of Congress or a president. Libertarian ideas that were considered outlandish 20 years ago -- like replacing the bankrupt Social Security system with private retirement accounts, getting rid of the income tax and the IRS, ending the War on Drugs, and so on -- are now part of mainstream political debate.

And yet the news media have largely overlooked this evidence that the Libertarian message has a broad and enduring appeal in America. Perhaps it is because our culture is obsessed with celebrities, and the Libertarian Party has never had a "celebrity" candidate for president -- a George Wallace, Ross Perot, or Ralph Nader.

But whatever the reason, the Libertarian Party isn't going to go away.

Indeed, as other alternative parties struggle or fade, the Libertarian Party is clearly the only viable national alternative to the Democrats and Republicans.

In 2002, we will once again be fielding candidates in a majority of Congressional districts. In most races, these candidates will be the only choice for voters who are deeply concerned about the ill-conceived and dangerous Security State measures that have been hastily enacted by Congress. We are in a time of tremendous change, and I believe that Americans are soon going to have to choose between a lot more freedom and a lot less freedom.

We are living more and more in a system in which people are no longer innocent until proven guilty. More and more, we are living in a state where it is presumed that the government controls everything, and that Americans have to get the government's permission to do almost anything. Ten years ago, you didn't even need to show identification to get onto an airplane; today you have to show some kind of "government-issued" ID to check into many hotels.

The question is, can we turn that around? I don't know. But I sincerely believe the Libertarian Party is the last, best hope for freedom in America.

Thirty years ago, when the Libertarian Party was founded, we were moved by the idea expressed so well in the Rascals song: "All the world over, so easy to see, people everywhere just want to be free."

They still do.

David F. Nolan founded the Libertarian Party with a group of friends in Colorado Springs on December 11, 1971. He currently lives in Mission Viejo, CA.

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