By Thomas R. Eddlem
Leading Argentine presidential candidate Javier Milei, a self-described libertarian, is running a campaign with a single, clear focus: how the working class is being hurt by the establishment. Working people in Argentina—where price inflation is at an annual rate of about 100 percent right now—are hearing that someone is at least talking about their problems, and they are flocking to Milei.
This is the same issue that propelled Oliver Anthony’s song “Rich Men North of Richmond” to the top of the charts and Anthony himself to an unlikely fame. And it’s essentially the same issue that propelled Donald Trump into the White House in 2016. Who cares that Trump never gave working people anything after he got elected other than a paltry tax cut? He made the crucial tactical decision to talk about their issues, and it drew working people to him and his party.
The Libertarian Party missed the opportunity to engage voters on this issue in 2016. Even as the Democrats and Republicans nominated the two worst candidates in US presidential history, the LP tried to be “responsible” by nominating boring Republican Party castoffs who took consistently unlibertarian positions on divisive social issues.
Seven years later, the former Libertarian Party establishment (which right now is not the least bit poised to mount a comeback) is still trying to ensure they don’t get called names by the same Washington/New York establishment they unconvincingly claim to oppose. Reason magazine’s response to Oliver Anthony’s song was that it was likable despite being anti-establishment. Their bloc is never even going to recruit enough people to overtake the Mises Caucus and its friends in the Libertarian Party, let alone ever be a threat to the political establishment they constantly try to cuddle up to.
On the other extreme, we have some state parties’ social media handlers who think that being controversial gets clicks and moves the organization forward. But that mentality is about as unserious as MTV’s edgy Jackass franchise— it does grab attention, but there’s little evidence to suggest that approach inspires new activists to join either the LP or the broader liberty movement—and is thus no threat to the political establishment. While it was fun in 2021 and early 2022 to get “REEEE!”s from the outgoing old guard of the LP, being edgy for edgy’s sake is not a path forward.
A Libertarian Party focused upon becoming the dominant political party in America must appeal with laser-like focus to the largest voter block in the country—working people—and simply ignore former party leaders, mid-wit critics, non-voters, people on the government dole, or the political power centers who will always hate and oppose us.
I’ve noticed even within the Mises Caucus there’s a tendency to say “End the Fed!” and think that’s progress. It isn’t. Not unless you relate it to the plight of working people by explaining how inflation taxes the wage-earner and renter most while enriching the wealthy with hard assets.
Even the very laudable Defend the Guard initiative is not at its most effective if we don’t relate it to the wasted valor of American soldiers’ lives unnecessarily sacrificed on the altar of the Military-Industrial Complex, which grows rich at the expense of working class people through taxes, inflation, and debt. Saying we want to merely “restore the constitutional power of war to Congress” sounds like a civics lesson, not a rallying cry.
It’s this focus on working people—and against the political class they have rightly grown to distrust and even hate—that has fueled Milei’s success thus far and will likely propel him into further success if he keeps it up—even with the political establishment of Argentina (and soon the entire world) united against him.
The Libertarian Party in the United States, and libertarian parties in other countries, would do well to take notes and learn something from his delivery and messaging. If we do, we just might be able to repeat his success.
Thomas R. Eddlem is the treasurer of the Libertarian Party of Massachusetts and a freelance writer published in more than 20 periodicals and websites, including The Libertarian Institute, The Future of Freedom Foundation, LewRockwell.com, and FEE.org. Lately, he most often writes for the Libertarian Institute and the blog of the Massachusetts Libertarian Party.