Steve G.

A Short on the Sundwall Campaign

In Activism, Candidate Endorsement, Congress, Economics, Law, Libertarian, Libertarian Politics, People in the news, Personal Responsibility, Politics on March 28, 2009 at 1:29 pm

Yesterday a friend sent me a link from the LP site about the challenge brought against Sundwall’s campaign.  She, like me, missed this news in the flood of news that seems to come through everyday.  Also, it was on the LP site, does anyone even go there anymore?  My immediate thoughts were, “I wonder who brought that challenge forward?  I wonder if any past candidates there have been removed for technicalities before?  I wonder if any of the past elected candidates were elected with technical problems?

When I’m in Dutchess County, NY sometimes I’ll I listen to WHUD. I hear them mentioning the names of the candidates to fill Gillibrand’s seat I get excited hearing them mention Eric’s.  It makes me smile.  I knew he was probably going to fight this, but I didn’t really see it being successful.  Talking Points Memo asks, “Qui Bono?” and they fill us in on details of who brought the complaint:

The complaint was brought by two voters who were registered with New York’s Republican and Conservative parties.* As such, some Democrats believe this was really engineered by the GOP side. As one Dem source told us: “The only reason the Republicans fought to keep Eric Sundwall off the ballot is because they knew he was stealing from their flawed candidate’s fading support.”

Thinking on it some more, the Eric Sundwall election brings up for me the same problems that the Ron Paul election did.  Perhaps even more.  Leaving aside issues of justice and ethics for the most part (as libertarians will argue over the problems of non-aggression and politics), I’m thinking about it in terms of economics.  Frequently, it would be asked by libertarian supporters of Ron Paul when they spoke among themselves, “just what could Paul do in office?”  We knew when thinking in context that he’d have to fight against political reality even if he became POTUS, a reality that had been shaped by powerful forces with mutual interest in maintaining their power.  From the state governments to the federal government, from the house to the senate, from big business to big education, from wealthy individuals to the labor unions, interlocking power had reasons to fight a Paul presidency and support one another while they individually had a go against the White House.  Still, Paul had the veto pen, the power of pardon, the power to appoint justices to the SCOTUS, nearly unilateral control over executive branch policy.  The hopeful assumed that those abilities might be enough to permanently change the US from an empire to a “normal” country if not a republic as imagined by 18th century liberals.

On the other hand Eric in NY would be a lot like Paul in the house, a lone voice crying into a near void, a Cassandra among rubes.  He would be running for congress, and not president.  Knowing this, would it have been worth it to support the Sundwall campaign?  It might give me a kick to know that someone I pretty much totally agree with was in office somewhere near me, but unless we had something like virtual cantons I don’t see it doing me much good.  The economic problem brought up by anti-political libertarians with regards to electoral politics is this.  Economics is about the use of scarce resources which have alternative uses.  We use the word “trade-off” to describe the choice of one use of scarce resources over others.  One of our scarce resources is time.  Our ultimate goal, as we all ostensibly agree, is a free society.  Is it a better use of our scarce resources to support and get elected candidates who will participate in the political process of majoritarianism and logrolling, or are there other alternatives that will help us achieve our goals?  Perhaps the time, money, energy, and will, used in supporting candidates can be put toward actually making a free society rather than hoping that our one candidates will prevail.  Agorists, at least, propose exactly this.

I have nothing against Eric Sundwall, in fact I wish him all the best.  If he had won I would’ve been glad.  This goes for all other libertarians that are going the political route.  It looks like Eric got too close to becoming a swing vote and had to be knocked out.  If he cannot receive the majority of the votes that would’ve gone to him then it seems like a wasted effort.  I ask other libertarians out there, about the larger point: Is the very idea of state politics a folly?  Should we continue these indirect efforts for liberation, or should we engage in direct action?  I have my answer, but I’m willing to listen to an argument for other points of view.

Update: Eric has released a statement of his intent to end his candidacy.  He fingers the Tedisco campaign for playing dirty politics.  I’m inclined to agree.  This merely highlights one of the main problems of putting hopes into electoral solutions for liberty. The powers that be want to remain the powers, and playing their games or following their rules simply seems like a fool’s game to me.

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  1. I’m thinking it’s a little late to be playing politics at the ballot box. Corruption is too embedded in the collective psyche of the elected; being a gadfly (a la Ron Paul) doesn’t do anything as most reps haven’t the foggiest what a conscience is. Ron Paul types are mostly good to keep the public somewhat hopeful. (And, I say this a huge Ron Paul supporter- yes, I’m quite pessimistic.)

  2. I’m sure all of us Ron Paul supporters are a little pessimistic these days. Saying, “I told you so!” only gives one a buzz for so long. We too, have to live in this world that came as a result of not listening to Paul and folks like him.

    One thing that some anarchists brought up during the Paul campaign was that Paul would be particularly dangerous as a candidate and an elected official… but for the libertarian movement! The reasoning was that he would turn budding anarchists from people dedicated to smashing the state, to people with faith in the government, i.e. people who really started to believe the idea that government “could work” with the right people in charge.

    Ah, the things that came from the short Ron Paul schism in the movement.

  3. I cannot comment for other anarchists, but even had Paul won, I would not have altered my view that anarchy is the only ethical system of government. I believe that the fear some of us had was overblown. After all, a step in the right direction is still a step in the right direction. Less theft is always better than more theft, less slavery is always better than more slavery, and although Paul made it clear that he would not go as far as we would, he was the only one offering a step in the right direction.

    Moreover, I cannot say I find it wholly realistic that people would turn away from anarchism in any meaningful way if we were to achieve minarchy. On the one hand, it could be said that we might not fight against the state with as much determination, since prosperity would be rising so dramatically and international conflict would be dissipating so rapidly. But on the other hand, the imagination of the average citizen would also be more open to the institutions of a free society. As Browne wrote in 1998, “[R]ealize that, when [we’ve reduced government to a fraction of its present size], the free market will give the best minds in the world an incentive to devise profitable methods (that we can’t even imagine today) by which the free market can perform functions we might think now can be performed only by government.”

    As for the question of whether to fight the system from the inside—through an explicitely libertarian party—or to fight the system from the outside—through counter-economics and revolution—, I figure that question is best left to each individual. Whichever area you wish to focus on, focus on it, because that’s the area in which you’re bound to be most productive. There are plenty of people out there that would have absolutely no involvment in the libertarian movement were it not for our parties. Likewise there are those who yearn to achieve a libertarian society but who positively eschew formal parties. Personally, I’m happy to see that there are people pursuing both paths. I doubt either would succeed alone.

    Yours,
    Alex Peak

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