Steve G.

A Mistake But Not a Sellout

In Libertarian, Libertarian Party-US, Politics on June 3, 2008 at 10:44 am

Hanlon’s Law – Never attribute to malice what can be adequately explained as stupidity.

It is no secret that many of us in the “radical” camp of the Libertarian Party would have preferred another result on the platform and nomination decisions at the Denver nominating convention.  I believe we could have made wiser choices as a party.

I don’t accept the idea, however, that the majority of delegates have sold out our principles or that their choices represent the end of a “libertarian” Libertarian Party, as is being suggested by some.  I also think those who are critics of the Denver result should focus on constructive activities that will help the party over the next 6 months and beyond.

The platform decision was not a choice of pragmatism over principle, but of a short document over a long one.  The parliamentary maneuvers of the winning side of the platform debate on the floor of the Denver convention were a thing of beauty to observe, but the bottom line is that they demonstrated that a platform designed to be a useful and detailed reference guide to candidates, activists, and members could not be conveniently read out loud in a short period of time (in a related story, the platform committee has called for the removal from the Internet of Wikipedia on the grounds that its 2.4 million articles cannot be read out loud in less than a thousand years).

As for our national ticket, while I do believe some of the vote was ideological, a great deal was not.  There were several factors that support my view that our principles are not on the ropes.

First of all, I don’t think there has ever been an LP convention where someone who had explicitly acknowledged being an anarchist got such a large percentage of the vote: although Mary Ruwart had committed to campaigning entirely on the LP platform, respecting the disagreements in the party over whether market institutions could replace all government institutions, she was repeatedly “accused” of being an anarchist, and the topic became so scandalous that every other major candidate felt the need to explicitly cite their personal commitment to minarchism.  She went to the last ballot and got 45% of the total vote of the convention (overwhelmingly minarchist).  Of course, a government that doesn’t aggress, doesn’t tax, and allows secession is entirely consistent with anarchism, as both I and Brian Holtz have repeatedly noted, while having different views on the desirability of such an arrangement.  Still, given the inadequate discussion of anarchism, which has resulted in large numbers of LP members being offended by the idea because they have never learned how libertarian anarchism differs from the popular cartoon version of a bomb thrower (not to be confused with the former bomb dropper who will be representing the Republicans in November), it was an impressive result.

Second, many were offended by the insults directed toward the man who eventually became our presidential nominee.  He was accused of having a secret plan for a conservative takeover of the party, ostensibly for personal profit (anyone who thinks there is money to be had in gaining control of the LP is too insane to deserve a response), and there was an open discussion of plans for a last minute appearance of Barr supporters to vote for him on nomination day, which clearly didn’t occur.  I was very disappointed with all the anti-Barr buttons at the convention: I prefer to wear buttons about who I favor, not who I oppose, and so did most of the undecideds.  Frankly, the Barr campaign came off as the unity campaign, and both the Root and Ruwart campaigns opened themselves to charges of divisiveness, while Barr and his supporters carefully kept all the focus on him.  Absent hard evidence, the claims of some Ruwart supporters that the Barr team was involved in the harsh attacks on her views (real and purported) came off as unfair.  The great difficulty Root had in getting the VP nod after a ringing endorsement and request by the presidential nominee to add him to the ticket shows that he continued to suffer from his campaign’s open criticism of Ruwart.

Third, in spite of the failure of former Republican congressman Ron Paul to make any kind of impact on the 1988 election as the LP nominee, many delegates bought into the idea that a former Republican congressman running as the LP nominee would have a big impact.  The fact that so many supporters of former Democratic Senator Gravel switched their vote to former Republican Congressman Barr after the former was dropped from the ballot supports this view.  I think they will be disappointed in November, but the point is that I know several radicals who bought into this idea, people who had and have concerns about our nominee’s current views on some subjects.

Being someone who wants to be constructive, I’d like to offer some suggestions to those who are not inclined to support our national ticket and to the national ticket itself.

To the former, there are many ways you can help the party: using your dismay at the national ticket as an excuse for inaction will hurt the cause of liberty.  You can find and support local candidates, speak out for libertarianism and the party without discussing the national ticket, work with anti-war groups (hey, does anybody remember we have troops in 130 countries right now?), or spend these months becoming a better spokesperson for liberty (reading Healing Our World to get the details of libertarianism, reading Secrets of Libertarian Persuasion to learn the art of selling liberty, and attending Toastmasters to become a more comfortable public speaker).  If you (we) are correct about what is going to happen in November, it won’t be a time for I-told-you-so but for Let’s-learn-and-grow-from-this.  Three steps forward and two steps back is the history of the world, and there is no reason to think any direction for the LP is permanent.  A few opportunists will probably disappear after November, but the sincere will remain and will support those with a positive plan for the future of the LP.  Have one ready.

To the ticket itself, there are simple things you can do to massively reduce the disappointment and increase the support you receive within the party.  Rather than provide a laundry list, I offer just one suggestion to each.

Congressman Barr, you must stop the cautious and unclear wording of your statements and both unequivocally and consistently call for the repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act.  There are some areas of dispute within the LP, but equal treatment under the law by all levels of government for members of the LGBT community isn’t one of them: this party has, from day one, been proud of its LGBT membership, which has always been open and held leadership positions in the party, and Outright Libertarians have always been able to distinguish themselves from the Log Cabin Republicans and Stonewall Democrats by the fact that they didn’t have to apologize for their party’s views.  Especially in a year when neither John McCain nor Barack Obama supports marriage equality, having the LP nominee, who sponsored DOMA, campaign for its repeal, would be a coup beyond measure, and allow us to take the offensive in discussions with liberals about the relative merits of the Libertarian and Democratic nominees.  It also would help get that law repealed, a worthy end in itself and a political triumph that could aid the LP for years to come.  No part of DOMA should remain: we are the Libertarian Party, not the States’ Rights Party (Brian Holtz said it better than I just did, but you get the point).

Mr. Root, you offended large numbers of Ruwart supporters with your article attacking her views (and misrepresented her support for replacing the arbitrary number 18 with the common sense of juries), and rubbed salt in the wound when you claimed on nomination day that you had always spoken respectfully about all the other candidates.  Since it is an open secret among many that you didn’t actually write the article, it would be best if the man who did would admit it publicly (if he thinks he was right, why is he so ashamed to have his identity known to everyone?).  Alternatively, you might offer a public apology for a campaign that went too far.  If you wish to both claim authorship and defend your article, I’m afraid I have no more advice to offer you.

For my part, I’ll be starting a long-anticipated project to provide content support for candidates who need quips and brochure material.  More on that in a couple of weeks.

  1. I’m sure Bob Barr is receiving loads of suggestions from many self-described radicals. However, the radicals are a very minute portion of the electorate. He has a professional campaign team that will attempt to sell liberty to the American people. That is far more important, IMHO.

  2. This was an excellent post that I agreed with 95%. Of course, in true libertarian fashion, I’ll comment on the other 5%:

    the bottom line is that they demonstrated that a platform designed to be a useful and detailed reference guide to candidates, activists, and members could not be conveniently read out loud in a short period of time…

    At some point, the radicals are really going to have to drop this patently-dishonest talking point about how the old platform was “useful” and a “reference guide” for candidates. I keep seeing those exact words and phrases pop up verbatim in multiple outlets, so I presume the message is organized.

    The whole backlash AGAINST the old platform came from candidates and their volunteers. For over three decades, we’ve scraped and scratched and clawed to get our candidates any press at all… and when they do get some, they often had to spend have the interview defending themselves against all manner of platform planks that had absolutely nothing to do with the local issues they were trying to raise in their campaigns. Our candidates have never found it all that “useful”.

    When we talk about the platform as a “reference guide” for candidates and members, let’s cut the crap and stop lying. If you want a reference guide, write a reference guide. What we’re wanting is to deliberately put chains and shackles on our candidates. We want to setup litmus tests for the rank and file membership, such that only a tiny core of mega-radicals can pass them all… and everyone else can understand that while they’re welcome to hang out, they don’t really belong, they’re second-class citizens, and they’re never going to be worthy of the same basic respect that the radicals demand in turn.

    This would all be okay if not for two things. One, the level of detail and minutiae is too high for what the general public understands by the term “platform” (i.e. when our candidates talk about “discrimination” to the press, they’re REALLY supposed to focus on OSHA and the NLRB?!?). Secondly, there has probably never been a plank or amendment to the platform that has passed unanimously in Party history. By declaring the platform to be the end-all-be-all “reference” on every tiny detail, you’re asking an awful lot of minorities to suck it up and just go with the will of the majority. Given the significant number of old-platform fans who are publicly announcing their refusal to even vote for the majority-selected Presidential ticket this year, that’s a very ironic appeal to make.

  3. Nice recap, Antman. Based on talking to a few delegates who had little preconceived notion of whom they were backing, I’d say Ruwart could have won had she been a more forceful and dynamic speaker. One told me she appeared retiring and slightly intimidated, qualities one would not want in a presidential candidate.

  4. There are some areas of dispute within the LP, but equal treatment under the law by all levels of government for members of the LGBT community isn’t one of them:

    Good god antman, pull your head out of your ass. When you force “equality” upon people at gunpoint, you are by no means advocating liberty in any sense of the word – while at the same time taking rights away from others.

  5. or that their choices represent the end of a “libertarian” Libertarian Party

    You have a pretty strange definition of “libertarian” then. Barf is the antithesis to the very concept.

    Outright Libertarians have always been able to distinguish themselves from the Log Cabin Republicans and Stonewall Democrats by the fact that they didn’t have to apologize for their party’s views.

    By calling for MORE government involvement in marriage? Not much of a distinguishment…

  6. Once in the CIA, always in the CIA (if you know anything about the CIA). Barf is a CIA asset designed to marginalize the LP, which is a doing a very fine job of by turning us into another conservative party.

    Ron Paul introduced libertarianism and the LP to millions. That scared the shit out of the establishment. Enter Barf.

  7. There most certainly is money to be made. Bob Barr is doing a great job fundraising right now, and that’s wonderful. The lists that come of his fundraising have value to people who profit from fundraising commissions. HELLO. There is someone inside the campaign this describes very well. Someone who “just happened” to hire the person who resigned in disgrace after issuing a slanderous press release against Mary Ruwart. Someone who “just happened” to buy the Web site where the smears against Mary Ruwart originated. And someone who “just happened” to be the keynote speaker at the LP convention.

    I hated the show the X-Files because it was ridiculous how Scully could turn a blind eye to the stuff happening around her. The problem with the LP is its full of Scullies on one side and Moulders on the other.

  8. The notion that the Barr campaign was not involved in the attacks against Ruwart is absolutely absurd. How much circumstantial evidence do you need? Less Antman would have acquitted OJ, I assume.

  9. Another inaccuracy: The plurality of Gravel supporters defected to Ruwart, not Barr. Gravel himself supported Root. When Gravel dropped out, Mary Ruwart picked up 27 votes, Barr 21, Root 16, and NOTA 4.

  10. I totally agree with the initial premise of this article– If you don’t like Barr/Root then do something else.

    In the coming weeks I’m going to be doing exactly that.

    If you’re curious about a way to get a little more Liberty right now– talk to me. I’ve got an idea, it looks like it has at least some LNC support, and it’s totally legit. No crazy stuff here.

  11. Lidia – please share.

  12. I visited Lidia and Mike last night and she definitely has some good plans!

  13. I heard my name called. 🙂

    I’m not going to spoil Lidia’s idea and steal her thunder, but I will drop a large hint:

    If the idea we’re thinking about works and can be implemented nationwide, candidates having to defend the platform will become a thing of the past, without changing or abolishing the platform at all…

  14. Steve Perkins:

    Thanks for liking 95% of what I wrote. Now, onward to battle!

    Lying? It isn’t possible that I actually believed what I said? The LONG version of our platform was much shorter than both the Democratic and Republican platforms. Our current version is too vague to be an outreach tool or an inreach tool: one sentence on the legalization of all drugs is enough to offend but worthless to instruct. The rest of your objections are innuendo about intentions. In any event, I think you’ve supported my view that the choice of the short platform was a matter of strategy and not principle.

  15. Disinter:

    Okay, my words can be read the way you chose, but it wasn’t my intention.

    DOMA increases government power over individuals in all its provisions. Repealing it decreases such power. It isn’t “forcing equality” to remove prohibitions from some members of society that don’t apply to others.
    True, I wouldn’t support increasing aggression against some members of society because they weren’t being aggressed against to an equal extent as others, and to the extent one can interpret my words in that direction, it was unintentional.

    Can we agree libertarians are united in opposing government restrictions and taxes that are applied selectively to the LGBT community? I’m a personal financial advisor, and I have gay clients who have paid and will pay tens or hundreds of thousands of additional income, gift, and/or estate taxes due to the federal government’s exclusion of their relationship from those qualifying for favorable tax treatment, and the “states’ rights” part of DOMA means that a married gay couple can’t move to another state without having these negative tax consequences reinstated in their new locale. This is just one example involving taxes.

    Of course, equal slavery is not a libertarian objective. Talking amongst libertarians, I didn’t think I needed to make that point.

  16. GE:

    I said that many of the Gravel supporters switched to Barr. They did. I also think it is fair to say that a majority of delegates didn’t believe the Barr campaign was behind the attacks on Ruwart, and that was my point. Whether you or I were convinced was not relevant to my analysis of why the majority of delegates went for Barr.

  17. Lidia:

    Since I’m already into my own project (financially as well as timewise), I’ll leave it to you to pursue and promote your own. I suspect our projects will be complementary rather than competitive. In any event, let everyone know when you want to do so, as the only effective way I’ve seen to deal with negativity is to replace it with something positive.

  18. If the idea we’re thinking about works and can be implemented nationwide, candidates having to defend the platform will become a thing of the past, without changing or abolishing the platform at all…

    This one would solve a lot of problems IMO:

  19. Except that’s not the world’s smallest political platform! 🙂

    This is, in the paloelibertarian slant:

    “Big government: Bad. Small government: Good. Ugh.”

    or the populibertarian slant:

    “Government Power: Bad. People Power: Good. Yay!”


  20. Um, no. That’s the cavemantarian slant, Mike.

  21. Anyways onto my idea.

    Something Mike and I have been doing for a while is called Legislative Analysis. Mind you it’s nothing sexy. What this does do, though, is give us a voice we can all use for figuring out the good, bad, and plainly ugly legislation out there. For instance we might find a bill to permit hemp growing that we’d obviously want to support or a bill that would prevent the redress of grievances on illegal taxation that we’d want to oppose. (Yes those were both real bills last year here in CA)

    It does several things, all good if used properly.

    First, it gives us a fighting chance at Liberty. Granted it’s not the all-guns-a-blazing full-strength Liberty we all dream of but it’s something and if we’re ever going to have a chance at truly smaller gov’t we have to at least stall its increase first. If we want to have the freedom to say, breed dogs in the way we feel is best, first we must fight the BSL/MSN/LL etc laws that threaten that. If we want to have less of a tax burden, we have to work to defeat bad budget bills.

    Second, it gives the Party earned media and other forms of gravitas. Politicians do not understand us. They see us as loony because they see us all all over their (linear) map. Obviously we see that differently and it seems that one tool to work on that is having our voice heard in current legislation. Legislative Analysis will help us earn respect.

    Third, it gives our candidates excellent, current fodder to discuss which will help to avoid the awkward questions about platform, etc that reporters often ask now. If we can reposition ourselves in such a way as to be a principled, educated, savvy voice on current laws our candidates will look more serious and this can only be good.

    So– who’s interested?

  22. “So– who’s interested?”

    ME! ME! ME!

    Oh, wait a minute. I’m already doing it!

    I would add one thing on the third point: as we track bills and who proposes them, it gives our candidates a perfect set of ammunition to blast their opponents on: “Mr. Incumbent, why did you propose/vote for AB123 to infringe upon the property rights of the people by banning their possession of X?” etc. is great fodder for our candidates, and is perfectly clean hardnosed politics at the same time. It makes our candidates more knowledgeable and credible in the voting public’s eyes.

  23. *pats Mike on the brow*

    Sweetie, you’ve become Californicated again.

    In the rest of the US proper, it would be HB123, not AB123. I have zero clue why they call the House of Representatives the “Assembly” but that’s a CA thing.

    However the rest of the point is very valid!

  24. As usual, Mike Nelson doesn’t get it…

    When you force “equality” upon people at gunpoint

    The federal constitution, as well as the Libertarian Platform, call for equal protection and equal treatment of all people BY GOVERNMENT.

    Equal treatment in government programs (such as marriage, adoption and military service) isn’t “forced equality at gunpoint.” It is rather denying the state the ability to use its powers (and guns) to target LGBT people.

    Nelson should know better. He was, after all, a member of Outright’s executive committee for over a year.

  25. Actually, Lid, I was doing a Collie imitation…no Californication here.

  26. As usual the resident drama queen, Ms. Miller, doesn’t get it…

    The federal constitution, as well as the Libertarian Platform, call for equal protection and equal treatment of all people BY GOVERNMENT.

    Wrong. Where in either document does it say that? The only reference to “equal” in the worthless platform that you worship is a mention in the statement of principles referring to non-aggression. The only relevant reference in the Constitution is in the 14th amendment referring to equal protection. What you constantly cry for are the socialist benefits associated with the ability for gays to get permission to get married, not protection.

    Nelson should know better. He was, after all, a member of Outright’s executive committee for over a year.

    Yes, I know that the Outright Liber-Nazis adovcate the very un-libertarian view of MORE government involvement in marriage.

  27. “And yet, it is to the doctrine of “equality” that many advocates of the “fairness” argument repair. Those who regard liberty and equality as synonyms – instead of understanding their contradictory, irreconcilable nature – tend to believe that, as long as an oppressive measure is forced upon all, without regard to distinctions, there is no problem. Such attitudes are generally shared by statists”

  28. Suddenly, I’m afraid to use Equal in my coffee.

  29. I’m shocked, shocked I tell you, to hear that the LP in its 35 years has not been running against the voting records of the incumbent politicians it was challenging. Isn’t this a fundamental aspect of multi-party politics???

  30. It is, but until now there has not been any sort of organized analysis to help out candidates except in CO where L.A. has been a reality for about 4 years now. If a candidate mentioned another candidate’s record it was done through independent research by the candidate, and was sometimes of dubious quality.

  31. Lidia’s right, it is some of the nuts and bolts of party politics that we should have been doing all along, and it’s long past due to get it moving.


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