NOTE: I’ve had a number of people ask questions—either to me, or someone in my family—about the party switch to Libertarian two years ago. Mostly, people are just curious what a Libertarian believes. So here’s a shot at trying to start the conversation….
As many of you know, in 2016, I officially switched my party registration from “Republican” to “Libertarian.” There were many reasons for doing this, but I want to remind you (by way of direct quotes from that letter) of what I sent to many of you back in 2016:
My view of conservatism has always been a Goldwater-Reagan based view: smaller government, lower taxes, fiscal responsibility, personal responsibility, respect for constitutional rights—and on the national scene, a strong military, but not an overly aggressive one. In other words, I believe in a constitutionalism which looks to the principles of our founders as a guide….
I am happy to discuss and take responsibility for the votes I cast with my constituents…We will not always agree, but you deserve to know why I voted the way that I did. But the pressure—sometimes near bullying—by some of my colleagues, and outside forces—to vote a particular way because “that’s the Republican way” has disheartened me. There is no discussion about ideas, and little negotiation—if a bill is controversial, the teams are supposed to split up, and everyone is expected to “fly right.” I believe that’s lazy policymaking.
As a Republican, the pressure to vote with the Republican governor is significant. The truth be told, on the vast majority of issues I agree with Governor Ricketts, and will continue to agree with him. But the notion that the Governor should be able to tell legislators how to vote because they are registered in the same party—or that “good Republicans” would work to keep something “off of the Governor’s desk”--does a disservice to the role of the legislature and to the intention of the founders when they created a republican form of government with separate branches--and guaranteed state governments would be the same. I have no objection to conversations between the branches of government—in fact, I suspect that better policy would be made if there was more conversation and fewer demands of partisan loyalty.
I consider myself a “movement constitutional conservative ”—and while not all libertarians are conservative constitutionalists, many are; and those who would be considered “movement conservatives” almost always have a strong stream of libertarianism running through their veins. As President Ronald Reagan said, “the very heart and soul of conservatism is libertarianism.” As the Republican Party has seemed to ignore constitutional governance; as Republicans have failed to make good on their promise of smaller government, lower taxes, fiscal control…this decision to make a break from the party that I’ve been registered with for 36 years, and active in for most of the 18 years before that, began to weigh heavily on my mind.
My decision to change my registration has nothing to do with a changing philosophy on my part. It has little to do with any particular candidate or candidates. It has some to do with life in the State Capitol, but it has a lot to do with a growing sense that I’ve had that the Republican Party of 2016 is fundamentally different than the Republican Party that I grew up in.
So WHAT IS A LIBERTARIAN?
That’s not an easy question to answer, because it assumes that every Libertarian thinks the same things about everything. We can identify elements of the Libertarian platform, but that doesn’t mean that every Libertarian agrees with every element of the platform—any more than it means that every Republican or every Democrat agrees with every element of THEIR party platforms.
Likewise, even in a body like the Nebraska legislature, where something like 32 members are registered Republicans, it would be impossible to provide any comprehensive “every Republican” list of agreed upon principles.
So let me make a few brief statements:
- Libertarians are generally skeptical of government power, and want to see less of it.
- They generally believe that less government will mean lower taxes for everyone.
- Their skepticism of government power causes them to value civil liberties—to limit the potential for government to infringe upon individual liberties without cause and due process.
Do these words sound familiar?
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed…”
Although there are some Libertarians who would take this even further, these words—from the Declaration of Independence—help define what most Libertarians stand for at its base level:
- Whether you are religious or not, there are "natural rights", endowed upon us by our very humanness. Those rights include the right to Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness
- Governments are not created to GIVE rights (or take them away), but rather to protect and secure the rights that are ours by our nature.
- Protecting and securing our rights means preventing others from doing harm to us—not protecting us from all potential harm we might do to ourselves in the exercise of our natural rights.
How these things are defined by specific Libertarians can differ. How they are applied can differ. But ultimately, I think that’s the direction that most Libertarians tell you they want to go.
Party Identification and Ideology
In many states, voters don’t even register with a political party. In some places, for partisan primaries, they just go in and “declare” themselves with a particular party in a particular election. If we didn't have party registration in Nebraska, this whole question about a party switch would be non-existent.
Party affiliation is an imperfect definer of ideology. We’re all familiar with the notion (perhaps becoming less common, as people flee the traditional two parties and become “Independents”) of “liberal/moderate Republicans” or “conservative Democrats.” Self-defined identification as a “conservative” or a “liberal” can be based primarily on one set of policy issues, as well—for instance those who are pro-life/traditional family values may identify as “conservative”, but may in fact be quite “liberal” on economic issues; likewise, those who are pro-civil liberties “liberals” may also be very prudent fiscal “conservatives”.
The assumption that everyone who identifies with a particular party (or tags themselves with a particular ideological label) agrees with all others who wear the party or ideological label, is silly, at best. We are all individuals, capable of individual thought. The labels we tag ourselves with are voluntary; the labels others tag us with are based on their perception, not necessarily objective truth.
Party and ideological labels are shortcuts for trying to explain who we are to others; they’re not comprehensive definitions for who we are or what we believe.
I spent the first 54 years of my life identifying as a conservative-libertarian Republican. Those of you who have reached that advanced age know that we don’t usually change our basic political views after that. I don’t believe my views have changed all that much, either; what’s changed, is the label that I wear when I go in to vote in primary elections.