Toward a Green-Libertarian Alliance

In a piece reflecting on the split between moderate and conservative Republicans, J.E. Robertson argues at Cafe Sentido that the current weakness of the Republican Party could be exploited by an alliance of Greens and Libertarians to break open the two-party system:
there is significant overlap between the policy goals of the Green party and those of the Libertarian party, despite deep philosophical differences on the role of government. A multi-state coalition among representatives of these two parties could forge a path for viable opposition to the two-party stranglehold on power. The effects would likely see one of the two major parties pushed into third place.

As the numbers stand now, a Green-Lib coalition might be able to shave as much as 10% off Democratic support nationwide, assuming Democrats or liberal independents —still wary of repeating the 2000 election, where a Green candidate effectively denied the Democratic candidate the White House— believed the coalition was big enough to keep the Republicans at bay. Republicans might lose anywhere from 20% to 35% of their support, as they struggle against Green-Lib claims that they are not rights-oriented and not green enough . . .

The question of why or how a Green-Lib coalition might play out —and that is really just one example— will have a lot to do with what party is bleeding votes in what way, and why? Right now, the Republican party is bleeding votes because 1) Bush’s politics failed on a grand scale; 2) the party has acquired an air of radical intolerance; 3) the party appears to be “out of touch” with the average voter; and 4) because Obama’s 21st century message of dynamic vision, inclusiveness, public service and sustainability, is prevailing.

Those four factors all suggest a Green-Lib coalition would more easily capture would-be Republican votes —perhaps all of them independents— than Democratic votes, as the Democrats are now more united and more determined than at any time in nearly 50 years . . .

if the Republican party loses more ground to the Democratic party in 2010, or in both 2010 and 2012, it is virtually impossible to imagine that the American electorate would not start searching for a viable opposition, to avoid a concentration of power that is generally seen by all as unhealthy for democracy.
A Green-Libertarian alliance is not as far fetched as it might sound at first. Robert Milnes makes a strong case for what he calls the 'progressive alliance strategy.' Furthermore, the Green and Libertarian Parties are already working together to challenge discriminatory ballot access laws in states across the country (for instance, in Pennsylvania and New Mexico). One might also question Robertson's assumption that "the Democrats are now more united and more determined than at any time in nearly 50 years." Liberal and progressive Democrats continue to be frustrated by the Democratic majority's unwillingness or inability to deliver "change they can believe in." Ironically, it is likely the depth of liberal and progressive support for the Democratic Party that allows the party's leadership to effectively ignore them. If liberals and progressives will vote Democrat no matter what Democrats do, then the party can safely pander to the conservative faction of its coalition. At the Public Policy Polling blog, Tom Jensen writes:
80% of Democrats are liberals or moderates and they tend to pretty much be in agreement on issues like the public option, but they're also the most reliably Democratic voters. That quite often causes a lot of officials to spend their energy appeasing that remaining 20% who are a threat to stray, even if it means working against what a significant majority of Democrats overall want. Absent primary challenges there isn't a whole lot frustrated progressives can do about that at the polls in a two party system- the alternative is worse. Persuading party leaders in Congress to do the right thing is the only, but often ineffectual, way to get things done.
Though this analysis of the internal dynamics of the Democratic Party coalition rings true, its duopolist bias is on full display in the conclusion that "there isn't a whole lot frustrated progressives can do about that at the polls in a two party system." Liberals and progressives can organize outside of the two-party system, or independently of the party system altogether. In an article on the relationship between organized labor and the Democratic Party, David Lindorff, for instance, argues that the proper response to "Democratic betrayals" is active opposition to the Democratic Party:

The only way to really make Democrats stop these kinds of betrayals is for labor to decide “which side it is on” and to actively oppose those who sell labor out. Trumka, as head of the AFL-CIO, is in a position to make a fundamental change in labor’s relationship with the Democratic Party. He should announce plans to encourage the formation of a new labor party, which would run its own candidates for office in key districts. Labor, uniquely, is in a position to do this. It has the money and the numbers to be able to easily get on the ballot in every state even by as early as next year . . .

Running candidates on a labor party ticket would be a much bigger threat to sell-out Democrats than just running candidates in the Democratic Primary. And with good candidates, some labor party candidates would certainly win their races, becoming a third force in Congress.

Until liberals and progressives demonstrate some amount of independence from the Democratic Party, they will continue to be taken for granted by that party, and the same holds for conservatives with respect to the Republican Party. A Green-Libertarian alliance is a promising strategy to weaken the positions of Democrats and Republicans that are hostile to the interests of both conservatives and progressives, and could very well effect change that would, paradoxically, be palatable to activists on both the left and the right.


smijer said...

I think a Distributionist party would appeal mightily to many conservatives and liberals as it devolves power away from the federal government to local powers, but not just political power - also economic power.

At some point a Distributionist party could split to make room for cultural conservatives on one side and cultural liberals on the other.

But Distributionism may suffer under a system geared to polar elections - as the number of parties will eventually converge to only two, and neither will want to devolve economic or governmental power back to local interests when they can keep it to themselves without answering to their constituents for it.

d.eris said...

I'm not really familiar with distributionist theory or practice, i.e. Chesterton et al.

What would be examples of distributionist policy or policy proposals in the US historical context?

smijer said...

Honestly, I don't believe it has ever gotten a foothold in the U.S. - maybe the closest U.S. locality to employ *similar* thinking might be the lovely Fairhope, AL.

A distributist movement did well for a while, then went belly up in Antigonish, Nova Scotia. The only currently functioning distributist government is in Mondragón, in the Basque region of Spain.

I'm very glad to see your interest piqued though. And I normally would preface this with a lot of caveats... I'm *not* Catholic and am firmly in favor of separation of Church and State - so Distributionism proper might have to be watered down somewhat even for me.

But, I see it as almost the ideal marriage between the progressive and the libertarian ethic. I recommend anything written at Front Porch Republic, which is an outlet for localist, agrarian, distributist thought - but especially this article: Building an Ownership Society.

d.eris said...

Thanks for the info and tips. I just saw your distributism post at Tete-a-Tete-Tete. Hopefully I'll get a chance to look into it more closely in the near future, especially given the progressive/libertarian synthesis angle.

Samuel Wilson said...

A Green-Libertarian alliance is indeed plausible. There is such a thing as libertarian environmentalism that sees pollution as a violation of property rights, but any alliance requires agreement on the nature of the problem. I don't know if there is a definitive libertarian position on global warming, but I can anticipate many libertarians being skeptical about the idea, and that would probably be a sticking point.

AnarchyJack said...


Can we agree that corporate money and special interest lobbies are the problem? Can we agree that the Republicans and the Democrats have been responsible for deficit spending? Can we agree the market collapse could have been avoided by keeping investment banks from being joined with the mortgage banks?

Let's start with our common ground:

1. More people identify themselves as independent than either of the duopoly parties.

2. The choice between tax and spend or don't tax and spend anyway isn't a choice when the result is the same.

3. Whether or not global warming is man-made, can we at least agree that working to cut emissions would at least help to correct the problem?

The biggest problem I see is that we are such a deeply divided country. There is a left/right hate-fest going on right now, the only historic reference for which is Brooks and Sumner; not quite that bad yet, but you get my meaning. Critics of conservatism are often denounced as "libby"; critics of progressivism are denounced as "religious fanatics."

More than the issues, there is a polemical identity embodying the false dichotomy of left/right politics that we will have to move beyond. If you and I can't agree on this, Sam, there is no chance of uniting a third party coalition to break the duopoly.

Anonymous said...

There is only one way to prevent a 2 party system from reemerging after a third party gets power.

We must amend the Constitution for procedures that are more favorable to multi-party democracy.

Instant run-off voting is the best bet. It allows people to still vote for the person(unlike proportional representation) and avoids the spoiler effect by letting people rank the candidates.