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.