Is It Time for Greens and Libertarians to Join Forces?

By Jay Stooksberry
November 10, 2015

When it comes to national elections, the deck is stacked against any candidate who doesn’t have a (D) or (R) next to their name.

Even third party candidates realize that they are dead in the water before they even had the chance to mount an effort against the two-party duopoly. Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein recently posted a “pre-mortem eulogy” that satirically characterizes her campaign that was “prematurely and surreptitiously extinguished by her many enemies.”

It’s time for third parties to change the narrative. It’s time for two prominent political groups – Green Party members and Libertarian Party members – to forego the losing effort of third party campaigning and join forces. Greens and libertarians – the two top political parties outside of the “big two” – need to stop fighting over the electoral scraps left over by Democrats and Republicans, and create a meaningful grassroots coalition that focuses on their shared ideological agendas.

Instead of spinning their wheels on trying to gain access to 50 state ballots, Greens and libertarians should focus their activism and fundraising efforts going toward the issues they champion.

Take the recent example of the Keystone XL pipeline. Greens focused their critique of this project for its obvious environmental impact and how the use of a dirty fossil fuel – such as oil from Canadian tar sand – contributes to climate change. Meanwhile, libertarians opposed the project due to the excessive use of eminent domain that was needed for the pipeline to be built. Though approached from different angles, the opposition to such political moves would be stronger if the duplication of efforts was streamlined.

But that’s just one example. J.E. Robertson writes, “There is significant overlap between the policy goals of the Green Party and those of the Libertarian Party.”

Greens and libertarians share similar views on interventionist foreign policies, the death penalty, Wall Street bailouts, whistleblower protections, military spending, the Affordable Care Act, marriage equality, domestic surveillance, auditing the Federal Reserve, prison reform, marijuana legalization, due process, police brutality, the War on Drugs, and the excesses of crony capitalism.

As the old axiom purports, politics make for strange bedfellows. When Greens and libertarians are not arguing over what constitutes a living wage or how fracking should be regulated, they should be figuring out how to avoid the duplication of efforts on the myriad of issues they do agree upon.

In Unstoppable: The Emerging Left-Right Alliance to Dismantle the Corporate State, Ralph Nader writes about the need for “convergent action” between two sides of the political continuum – the progressive wing of the Democratic Party and the libertarian wing of the Republican party – to achieve meaningful political reform.

In the book, he lays out a legislative agenda for this hypothetical caucus. The agenda promotes what could be considered fairly moderate positions: annually auditing the Department of Defense, promoting efficiency in government, incentivizing charitable donations, etc. Then there are a few more “radical” propositions: breaking up the “too big to fail” banks, removing fast track options for international trade agreements, ending unconstitutional wars, and defending civil liberties.

From a theoretical standpoint, Nader’s proposition is commendable, but probably not entirely realistic. This idealistic strategy relies upon a disjointed partisan system. The reason that Democrats and Republicans don’t work well with one another is due to their re-election being dependent on the appearance of party loyalty.

The incentive to reach across the aisle continues to diminish with each election cycle. Even when Democrats and Republicans work together on major reforms, the coalition is often composed of marginalized politicians who can’t effectively influence their parties, such as Rand Paul and Bernie Sanders teaming up to stop the USA Freedom Act from passing, which extended the NSA’s metadata collection program.

In reviewing recent examples of legislation co-sponsorship, political scientist Gregory Koger found that liberal Democrats and libertarian Republicans frequently leverage this bipartisan tactic. However, the members always tend to be on the “fringes of both parties,” and these efforts involve “little political risk.”

Also, the relationship tends to be more self-serving: “You sign my bill, I’ll sign yours.” The result: an abysmal quantity of substantive legislation that eventually dies in session or gets voted down.

If Greens and libertarians are to create meaningful reforms, they need to create groundswell outside of the congressional sphere of influence. Furthermore, avoiding the political tribalism of party registration will have better appeal to independents. Promoting political coalitions, applying principled political pressure through grassroots lobbying, and challenging political injustices in the courts will accomplish more in the long run for these two parties.

Consider marriage equality – an issue both parties celebrate – as example of effective grassroots activism. It can be argued that a minority political group influenced a widespread change in public opinion. When put to a vote, marriage equality was consistently voted down when left to state ballots to decide. By 2007, the majority of the country actually legislated constitutional amendments banning same-sex marriages. For those battling for marriage equality, the odds didn’t seem strong.

However, by 2011, opinions on same-sex marriage made a drastic shift: More and more Americans changed their minds on the subject, and finally a majority of Americans were in favor of allowing same-sex marriages. The court of public opinion became the direct path to a much higher and more influential court: the Supreme Court.

In The Atlantic, Molly Ball writes, “The fight for gay marriage was, above all, a political campaign – a decades-long effort to win over the American public and, in turn, the court. It was a campaign with no fixed election day, focused on an electorate of nine people.”

Marriage equality is now the law of the land in 50 states. The only thing that could change that would be a Constitutional Amendment, requiring a large amount of politicians – a supermajority of the Senate and House and three-fourths of state legislatures – to support a piece of legislation that would essentially be political suicide.

Libertarians and Greens are already collaborating on judicial action.

Jill Stein and Gary Johnson – respectively the nominees for the Green Party and Libertarian Party in 2012 – have filed suit against the Commission on Presidential Debates. The Commission has set strict standards that have purposefully kept third party participants out of mainstream presidential debates since Ross Perot’s campaign, which further blocked adequate national press coverage for the candidates. The plaintiffs are suing on the grounds of anti-trust violations since the Commission is an organization funded and operated by both major parties.

If this lawsuit is successful, greens and libertarians may need to take note. This could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.