Bruce Bartlett

A few months ago, I caused a bit of a stir by suggesting that the best way for libertarian ideas to advance is by destroying the Libertarian Party. Since it cannot win, due to the nature of our political system, it is impotent and only ends up crushing the spirits of libertarian-minded political activists. After spending some time with the party, they often become so frustrated that they exit politics altogether, leaving fewer libertarians in the Republican and Democratic parties.

For the benefit of those who still cling to the idea of a political party explicitly devoted to libertarian principles, today I want to talk about some political reforms that might make such a party viable.

One, obviously, is a European-style parliamentary system where the president is, in effect, elected by Congress. The Founding Fathers rejected this idea, and I see nothing in the way parliamentary systems govern that seems better than what we have.

Another would be to get rid of the Electoral College or change it so as to allow a candidate to win with a plurality of the votes. Right now, an absolute majority is required -- a minimum of 270 electoral votes. This tends to enforce a two-party system even at the local level.

But if we allow a candidate to win with less than a majority of the electoral vote, then there is the danger that someone representing one section of the country or a big state like California could win while losing the rest of the country. This would also be a problem if we just elected presidents by popular vote, which many Democrats like because they got robbed twice, in 1876 and 2000, by Republicans who lost the popular vote but won in the Electoral College.

Theoretically, either proposal would empower third parties, but the results could be disastrous if there were many parties dividing the vote and the winner ended up with just a small fraction of the total. It would be almost impossible to govern in that case.

Personally, I like the Electoral College as it is. It prevents someone who is merely a sectional candidate from winning, it forces candidates to campaign nationwide and not ignore the small states, it tends to magnify the victories of the winners and give them a mandate to govern even if their popular vote margin is small, and it prevents the viability of third parties.

Bruce Bartlett

Bruce Bartlett is a former senior fellow with the National Center for Policy Analysis of Dallas, Texas. Bartlett is a prolific author, having published over 900 articles in national publications, and prominent magazines and published four books, including Reaganomics: Supply-Side Economics in Action.

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