Steve G.

Is the Libertarian Party a real political party?

In Libertarian, Libertarian Party-US, Politics on June 18, 2008 at 3:46 pm

I’m not sure I can answer the question in the headline.

On one hand, a member of the LP, speaking out on any controversial issue, can expect a cacophony of responses to that issue… ranging from how principled and brave he or she is, to a condemnation of his pseudolibertarian statist little black heart.

On the other hand, we are in the ballot in most states, right?

Yet, apparently the campaign organization isn’t quite sure how it’s going to get on the ballot in certain states, and the annual report sent out by the former executive director lost money — rather than raising money for the ballot access effort.

We’re all about freedom and transparency — but when one LNC member started posting snippets of the typical exchanges on the super-secret LNC discussion list, her position gets threatened.

We’re all about bringing freedom to the masses and being a better choice for the average American — yet the vacation plans of an LNC member’s girlfriend are apparently a major consideration in where our upcoming convention is being held.

We claim to be passionate for liberty — yet when one of the LP’s strongest candidates in North Carolina is being unfairly excluded from public debates that were set up for the benefit of the old party candidates, the same legion of folks who have hours to comment on LP blogs couldn’t muster more than two dozen e-mails between them to challenge this state of affairs.

So I guess I’ll settle on this answer.  The Libertarian Party is what you make of it.  Some people want us to be an effective political force that has a meaningful effect in moving America towards a position of greater liberty through successfully electing candidates and passing ballot initiatives.

Others seem to view us more as a platform for, ummm, “radical self-expression” — regardless of where that takes the organization.

And there’s a third group who just seem to like being the biggest goldfish in a little ol’ fishbowl.

I’d posit that whether we’re in business four or eight years hence will be dependent on which group of people manages to wrestle some degree of influence on the party by showing up at conventions and engaging in meaningful activism as a Libertarian (not a Republican or member of some other party).

It’s your party.  It’s up to you, as an individual, to make it real, in the real world.

  1. Well, we have given the other blood sucking parties a try, why not the Libertarians. God knows we need them right now.

  2. Do you think the same kinds of shenanigans don’t take place in the major parties? Of course they do – from the precinct level right up to the National Committees. Look, intelligent people will differ on how they think an organization should best proceed. No one has a crystal ball, so future outcomes are always in doubt…so why is “your way” going to work and “my way” won’t? Strategy and tactics are always subject to debate.
    Now we can disagree politely or we can allege bad motives – such as cowtowing to a girl friend’s vacation preferences vs. what somebody actually thinks will turn out the most members for a truly dynamic convention. (Do a survey to see what members want, rather than rant about the alleged bad motives.) The more bad motives and venality we attribute to the “others,” the less productive the organization will be, as the others respond in kind.

  3. Do you think the same kinds of shenanigans don’t take place in the major parties? Of course they do

    Is that a decent standard for the Libertarian Party to uphold? Shouldn’t we aim higher?

  4. The question was “is the LP a real political party?” and the answer is “yes” if judged by the presence of shenanigans. Is it a decent standard? No, and I recommended that step one is to stop attributing venality and bad motives to everyone who disagrees with one’s own position.

  5. I don’t recall using the words “venality” nor “bad motives.”

    I do recall asking some tough questions — and not getting any real answers to them, however.

  6. Shouldn’t we aim higher?

    Most definitely. Barf is an insult to the membership of the LP.

  7. No you didn’t use those words, but you did mention “pseudolibertarian
    statist little black heart.” As we both point out, some discussion degenerates into questioning the motives of others, or calling them liars (“Barr hasn’t really changed.”) For instance, the “where to hold the convention issue” should be resolved on what is best for the Party, not believing that Aaron jokingly would base his decision on where Kate would like to vacation or that she would actually put her preferences for a vacation spot over what is best for the Party.
    Step one to being a real, effective organization is to deal with organizational differences on a rational basis and not try to rack up a score with insults, putdowns, and threats to punish or diminish the influence of others.

  8. Step one to being a real, effective organization is to deal with organizational differences on a rational basis and not try to rack up a score with insults, putdowns, and threats

    I agree. However, accountability is part of leadership as well — and you must admit, there’s a significant lack of accountability, which starts with “secret proceedings” by the leadership. Openness and transparency are a good thing.

    Not being on a first-name basis with the girlfriends of LNC members, I cannot tell whether the joke was appropriate or not. However, I am aware that there have been “fun” events in the past, on cruise ships and various other remote locales, that excluded folks of average means from participation.

    I also think it is not unreasonable to ask questions of incremental progress and ROI. For instance, is a political party effective when it has money for a Hawaii convention, but not enough money to put Bob Barr on the ballot in all 50 states? Is it doing its job well if candidates don’t get the support they need to get into debates? Is it marshalling its resources effectively if volunteers ask for something to do and aren’t steered in the right direction?

    Few know the answers to many of these questions, since party “leadership” discussions are completely secret.

  9. It’s definitely a question to consider.

    Apparently there is a certain level of opposition, I discovered this morning to my dismay, to attempts by Mike and I to do Legislative Analysis on bills. I thought that was a pretty basic thing that most political groups do. It’s not like we’re doing some weird ooga booga thing. And it’s not like I have any actual power– everything gets approved or rejected by the ExComm anyhow. So I wonder why people are objecting.

    But unfortunately this dislogic is becoming/is an LP norm.

    It’s frustrating.

  10. Lidia, I’ve seen the same thing in the San Francisco party (and other local parties), to an extent. There’s always the guy who shows up, objects continuously, but never delivers on any of his commitments.

    Lots of roadblocks, objections, and “suggestions” are thrown one’s way, but when you call the guy on it, he throws up his hands and backs away. Lots of folks liking to hear themselves talk (and calling themselves leaders), but when the rubber hits the road, all they’re doing is attempting to direct your work rather than pitching in themselves.

    I know it’s concerned a number of people in various county parties. What ends up happening is classic burn-out… the people who get work done, come up with cool ideas, or otherwise take initiative are shot down or forced to jump through flaming hoops by the more passive-aggressive sorts who fancy themselves chiefs when they haven’t done the yeoman’s work and heavy lifting.

  11. Perhaps the question; ” What is the historical role/model of third parties ?” or “Are we happy with our place in this role/model ?” would be more productive. The term “real” in this instance is a banal non-sequitur.

    I’ve seen this idea used at LNC & StateCom meetings by those who wish to advance a particular agenda while justifying the proposal in these terms. It gives critics pause because they do not want to be perceived as being an impediment to change or success. The bottom line is that Hillary spent more on volunteer’s lunches during her campaign than the entire LNC budget (1.7 million or so).

    In terms of the secret list, it’s not that big of a deal. Most of the stuff is pretty mundane day to day business that pops up. Is the petition drive in Pennsylvania going well ? How do you get from the airport to the hotel ? Occasionally a personal flare up and/or a controversial issue will pop up and dominate the discussion. Frankly I think at those times it’s best not to share it with all anyway. Don’t get me wrong, I can understand why Angela is frustrated and applaud her effort, but eventually the agenda setters will bypass the list if need be.

    If your gauge of ‘real ‘ is money and electoral success, no third party in the United States fits that bill. Americans and their special interests know where their bread is buttered and it ain’t at the altar of Liberty. If fellow citizens with common beliefs wish to organize and compete in the electoral system, that alone should qualify as ‘real’. If, after all the history of humans and the panoply of their thoughts, we cannot do this with pride and without the expectation of taking power, than nothing is real. But nobody, but nobody, beats themselves up about this issue more than Libertarians.

  12. Brian this is something that has bothered me for some years. First off there has been an attempt to “professionalize” the party. That failed. In the process a lot of volunteers left. That is the members who were activist. With them went some of the knowledge of how to get the work done. How to write a press release. How to call the newspaper. How to write a letter to the editor. How to get out a newsletter. How to write a fund raising letter. How to conduct a meeting fairly. etc,etc,etc.

    I could go one, but I’m sure you get the point. All of the above has to be developed again. How deep is Munger’s staff?

    MHW

  13. The term “real” in this instance is a banal non-sequitur.

    I disagree, although perhaps I didn’t eloquently present the alternative to “real,” which is “artificial.”

    “Real” parties tend to be political movements in and of themselves, with significant direction on policy and execution from the members themselves. They campaign to win elections, they back up candidates, and they generally contribute significant content and candidates to the marketplace of ideas.

    “Artificial” parties tend towards avoiding doing real party work, and focusing instead on parliamentary tricks, “status” in the party (including what offices and other designations a person has), and generally *avoiding* the challenges of competing with the “other guys” and taking a humble and responsive approach to the members (who, after all, make up the party).

    The bottom line is that Hillary spent more on volunteer’s lunches during her campaign than the entire LNC budget (1.7 million or so).

    And Clinton wasn’t successful because of her policies (to a large extent). Rather, voters and especially volunteers were enamored with her personality, her “message,” and various other things that the LP could build — if it spent the time to build them.

    Americans and their special interests know where their bread is buttered and it ain’t at the altar of Liberty.

    I believe that sort of cynicism is detected by the average voter in a lot of Libertarians.

    There’s an awful lot of contempt for average Americans in a lot of the Libertarian Party… contempt about their “bad choices” or “overreliance on government” or “stupidity.” It would be much smarter to reach out to the average person — especially the working class, big-city and minority communities the LP polls so poorly with — and get them on board.

    A Libertarian approach to criminal justice has HUGE appeal in the inner city wards of drug-war-torn African American neighborhoods in Philadelphia, Oakland and Detroit. The problem is that Libertarians never go there, because so many write off the black community as “members of a special interest.” Yeah, they have a special interest — staying alive and making ends meet in a community where cops and drug dealers both kick down their doors and shoot at them.

    If we had humility to listen to their problems and *suggest* solutions — rather than prescribe solutions from on high to them (with the inference that they “just don’t get it”), we’d win a lot more support. And we’d be a “real” party, because that support would be legitimate, organic support that would make the LP more closely resemble the country whose values it purports to represent.

    I could go one, but I’m sure you get the point. All of the above has to be developed again. How deep is Munger’s staff?

    It’s not that large, to my knowledge, but Munger’s campaign has been about as good as any Libertarian campaign I’ve seen for statewide office. He’s responded rapidly to the shut-out of the debates, but it hasn’t attracted national attention like it should have from our own national committee.

    If the LP HQ put out a press release (at a minimum) about it, and e-mailed activists on the email list asking them to fire off a quick letter to the individuals in question, that would be a start. An e-advocacy system would be even better, and costs under $100 a month for a decent system.

    Both would dramatically elevate the LP’s stature in these situations while providing much-needed candidate support in the local and state elections where we’re most competitive.

  14. Brian writes: “If the LP HQ put out a press release (at a minimum) about it, and e-mailed activists on the email list asking them to fire off a quick letter to the individuals in question, that would be a start. An e-advocacy system would be even better, and costs under $100 a month for a decent system.”

    Right on Brother!

  15. I find it completely insane that the guys that cry “education is for other organizations to take care of” are the same ones that run the lp website and cannot even manage to put up a links page in order to guide newbies in the right direction. If we are not going to do it ourselves and fund some education/outreach then for christ’s sake at least point people in the right direction. No wonder that we are becoming a rudderless ship quickly.

  16. Forget links to education sites, how about a comprehensive list of the candidates?

    Good luck finding that at LP.org.

    If anyone knows an alternative place they are listed in one place please let me know. Right now AFAIK you have to go to each state’s web page, and many of those have not been updated recently.

  17. Is the LP not winning more elections because of the condition that it’s in, or is it in the condition that it’s in because the powers that be won’t allow it to win? Hmmm, I say as I stroke my beard pondering the question.

  18. Is the LP not winning more elections because of the condition that it’s in, or is it in the condition that it’s in because the powers that be won’t allow it to win?

    We don’t allow ourselves to win, in many situations. And many of us are unwilling to do the legwork to get credibility as candidates. Too many of us aim for governor or Senate when perhaps we should be aiming for city council or statehouse.

  19. Well, thats why I’m running for Lake Michigan College Board of Trustees.

    1.It’s local

    2.Less expensive to run a proper campaign

    3.It’s winnable (I will be running against 3 incumbents in a “elect 3” situation, and to date, Its a 4 way race)

  20. Brian writes; “Too many of us aim for governor or Senate when perhaps we should be aiming for city council or statehouse.”

    That is true, but sometimes we get carried away in our zeal to refom the world and that leads to this problem. It is wise for us to pay attention to what works. Not that i wish to copy every other group out there. Years ago the so called Christian Right began targetting school boards over the texts students were using. Well a lot of those who got elected to the school board went on to higher office. Most important they gained knowledge about running campaigns. Often that is more important that the office one holds.

    MHW

  21. Well, thats why I’m running for Lake Michigan College Board of Trustees.

    1.It’s local

    2.Less expensive to run a proper campaign

    3.It’s winnable (I will be running against 3 incumbents in a “elect 3″ situation, and to date, Its a 4 way race)

    I think you’ve done a great job of choosing the office to run for. I’ve always believed that the party can only truly be build if we run strong local candidates, but I also believe we should run them in non-partisan races, but still embrace the Libertarian label. I’m rooting for you!

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