Steve G.

Peter Orvetti: “The Downer Party”

In Libertarian on July 11, 2008 at 3:16 am

The following is posted with permission of the author, Peter Orvetti. It was originally posted on his blog, The Orvetti Factor

The Libertarian Party eats its own.

I recently rejoined the Libertarian Party, which I have had an off-and-on affiliation with since 1992. (I first officially became a member in 1999, during my brief tenure at the Cato Institute –- which is ironic, given that Cato is largely the result of a great LP schism back in 1983.) I served as Deputy Director of Communications for the LP in 1999 and for the first bit of 2000, and made a point of covering the LP (as well as other alternative parties) back in my days.

I am by no means a doctrinaire Libertarian. I support the LP because it is the most credible party that I am closest to on the issues I care most about. I also have the benefit, if you can call it that, of living in the most one-sided political jurisdiction in the country, the District of Columbia, where Democrats frequently take 85% or more of the vote in both local and national elections. If I lived in a swing state, I might feel inclined to vote for the least bad of the major candidates -– as I did when I lived in Virginia during a time of several close campaigns. But in D.C., I have the luxury of voting my conscience.

I do not oppose public roads or all taxation, and I do not know enough about the Federal Reserve and the gold standard to have an opinion. But I do think marriage apartheid is abominable (and “civil unions” a politician’s copout), and jail terms for possessing a drug less dangerous than the one to which I am addicted a travesty. I am also a homeschooling parent, and that is part of why I rejoined now.

In early March, just after getting back from a lovely family trip to Paris, I found out that the District of Columbia was going ahead with harsh new restrictions on homeschooling. I was on my way to testify at a public hearing on the matter when I was mugged at gunpoint on the escalator of the Columbia Heights Metro station at 5:00 in the afternoon. I was fine, the 16-year-old perpetrator was quickly caught (lots of security cameras, and some dumb subsequent moves on his part), and I was out little more than $50 and a Blackberry I had been meaning to replace anyway. But the episode crystallized things for me. I was on my way to defend a personal practice against government interference when I was threatened by a gun-toting kid in a city that prohibits me and other law-abiders from self-defense. (Or it did, anyway -– go Justice Kennedy!) I rejoined the LP a few days later.

Because the LP is a small party, and because Facebook has come along since my last time as a member, I quickly reconnected with folks I used to know, and found a lot of other smart and fun Libertarians online. The party was in the midst of what arguably was its most heated presidential nomination fight ever, and there were lots of fevered but mostly respectful debates. For reasons I am sure I will get into in a later posting, I am not presently supporting the LP’s national ticket. I am not sure whom I will vote for –- both major party contenders have great strengths but also many stances that give me pause. I am leaning toward writing in Charles Jay.

Anyway, with the small size and heated internal debates comes factionalism. This is a peril of all minor parties. Since the numbers are small, direction can turn on the actions and decisions of a few activists. And because the rewards are few, members tend to be intelligent and passionate people who hold their ground. So, when irreconcilable divisions arise, it is hard to keep people in the fold.

Even issues of internal operations can be fractious. This is a perennial issue in the LP, which is small but which has a somewhat entrenched bureaucratic structure that often takes a top-down approach to things. Even though I once worked for the national party, I am no longer sure having a strong centralized operation is a good thing for the LP. The action is at the state and local level, and it is hard for a Washington office to really understand what is going on there and support the work without stomping in like a lumbering giant and disrupting activists’ efforts. Perhaps a federation of state affiliates with a loose national component, existing less to lead than to coordinate and fundraise, would be better.

There is currently a major disagreement over ballot access policy that has leaked onto the web, including coverage at Independent Political Report, a site I have written for since its inception. I know nothing about the details, so I will not comment on it there or here. I will say I am sorry to see so many good and committed Libertarians divided over any matter.

There has also been some division as a result of the very controversial nomination of Bob Barr for president on the sixth ballot at this year’s national convention. Several offshoot parties have formed or been revived, and some state parties and presidential electors are openly stating their dissatisfaction with the ticket. As someone who does not back Barr, I sympathize — though I hope the LP will not go the way of the many tiny socialist parties in the U.S., fighting more among themselves about purity than in working toward a common goal. It all reminds me of the scene in Warren Beatty’s great film “Reds” in which one faction walks out of a meeting to go form its own party in the basement.

I am sticking with the LP, if only so I can vote and then look myself in the mirror. I also have a vague ambition to one day run for vice president of the United States (on the promise of abolishing the office if elected -– see Jules Witcover’s “Crapshoot” for more on why). I would happily trade a bucket of warm (spit) for the chance.

In addition, I am at work on what will become a brief exploration of my own brand of Libertarian thinking, significantly influenced by the work of Dr. Mary Ruwart. I am hoping to create a 100-page book, following on Kurt Vonnegut’s dictum that he wrote short books because he wanted people to actually read them. In reading Ruwart’s work and others that have influenced me, I have thought, “If only this were shorter, I could use it to persuade the skeptics I know.” Hopefully my own shorter effort will help.

  1. There are many fine candidates in the Libertarian Party, and the Boston Tea Party wants you to vote for the best of them. Which is why we’re endorsing the ones we believe are truly for a smaller government at all levels, and on all issues, a bigger gov’t at no level and on no issue. You don’t have to leave the LP to join us – as Tom Knapp, our party’s founder, illustrates. He’s running as an LP candidate for Congress in Missouri, while also running as the Boston Tea Party’s vice presidential nominee.

    There are many fine people in the LP, as well. It just happens that they aren’t in control of the corrupt national party structure at this time. And they haven’t nominated a good man for president. Some people, as you note, have left the party. I left the LP’s national organisation in 1998 because of the corruption involved back then. Although I haven’t had anything to do with the national party since – I’m one of the many former members who won’t renew my membership until they clean up their act – I have been involved in LP activities in North Carolina, Texas, Wyoming, and Kansas.

    I truly believe that the best party for libertarians is also the fastest growing one, the Boston Tea Party. Your mileage may vary.

  2. Maybe the LP’s “top down” power structure is due to mostly weak state parties? California has been the tail wagging the dog for a long time because of sheer size. If the dissatisfied folks built up six or ten state parties to California’s size, then they could bring the LNC to heel.

  3. One of my favorite political oxymorons is “Libertarian power structure.”

  4. Brian: So Libertarians should have no power to affect change and no structure to organize change to liberty. Nice going, now wonder the LP has almost everytime polled under 1% every past election…

  5. Of course Libertarians have power to affect change. They’re just not going to do it through the Republicrat power structure.

    Even if the Libertarian Party increases its share of the vote by 20x, it’s not going to get “power” by playing the Republicrat game.

    You’d think people would learn that by now, but instead the focus is constantly on watering down our most basic principles with a candidate to get a temporary magic-bullet “pop-up” that never, ever happens. Then the insanity commences and we rinse and repeat.

    Meanwhile, everyday strategies for libertarian reform are overlooked or pooh-poohed by the same people who are deluded enough to think that we’ve got power — or ever WILL get power.

  6. I have been with the LP since 1980 and would have joined earlier, but could not get in touch with anyone who would answer a phone call.

    Having started with Rand at age 18 and worked my way through Friedman, Nozick and a host of others I consider myself pretty hardcore. Over the years I have been a candidate, party functionary and done a bunch of crap for the effort; i.e. write letter, testify, collect signatures etc. I also have some business experience that applies to what we should be doing. And the fact is we, or the LP ain’t doining it. This is not rocket science, but it does require some consistency of effort.

    A few weeks ago I wrote an email letter to everyone on the LNC including the alternates. Out of the group none of the officers took the time to reply and just four of the regional reps. To say the least my letter probably could have been better constructed. I certainly was not my best effort, but to not even get a reply from any of the officers indicates to me that they lack the understanding of what courtesy in the business world is all about. A simple thank you and some indication that one of them at least would consider what I had written would have been nice. This act of ommission tells me a lot.

    Michael H. Wilson

  7. LPHQ, in particular, is weirdly unresponsive to e-mails. I submitted an essay for LP News consideration some time ago, and cannot get a reply to queries about whether it was received, let alone whether it will be printed. Moreover, no one has replied to my e-mail about why I have yet to receive a copy of LP News, which I’m paying for, since rejoining the party.

  8. That said, several members of the LNC (Dixon, Keaton, Lark, and Ruwart) have sent supportive and detailed replies to my e-mail messages.

  9. Peter thanks for the comments While I am at the edge of leaving the outfit I will spend next weekend and a tank of gas getting signatures for Barr. If anyone wishes to sign the petitions that is.

    Steve Kubby was the one person I had hoped to see get the nomination this year, but that wasn’t to be.

    I’ll be supporting the party, but will the party support me? Where’s the outreach? Where’s the regular public relations effort? Where’s the support for the state and local teams? Where’s the up to date literature? It is little, or nonexistent, or so it seems. Just rhetorical quastions. I don’t expect an answer from the fine folks on this list.

    And my thanks to Angela, Lee, Mary and Rachel for taking to time to reply to my post. More later.


  10. Here’s the big problem with the criticism of the “Top-Down Libertarian Party”:

    That it focuses too much on the top. It fights “top-down” via a “top-down” approach, that it’s not about the supposed disproportionate power of National that needs to be addressed, but just that the “right people” need to be put at the top.

    In the end, I feel so much of this “top-down” critique is a smokescreen. That they disagree in terms of policy and strategy just isn’t enough, that they have to portray their opponents as corrupt or evil.

    Roscoe has it partly right.

    If there is too much power at the national level, it’s only because the local parties haven’t developed themselves up much. A state party that can run its own ballot access efforts doesn’t have to worry what the national has to say about how it’s run. A state or local party that does more on its own to develop candidates and run campaigns, doesn’t need to worry about failing to gain the attentions of the national party.

    Let’s put that independent spirit and sense of personal responsibility into how we approach the questions of how we each attain our goals for the party. Look at what we can do ourselves, and look to get what help is out there by asking those who have the skill, knowledge, resourses, and the willingness to help. If you feel national isn’t meeting your needs, look laterally, look to groups who you think are doing a good gob and ask them what they are doing well.

    We spend too much time looking at the organizational structure of the party and mistake if for a ‘power structure’. Partly out of fear of someone using that power, I’m sure. But the LP is a voluntary organization. No one is in it against their will. What ‘power’ is there?

    On a side note (and a bit off topic, for which I apologize) I think that one of the most poisonous things a Libertarian can do to kill their own enthusiasm for the party is to try to read about news on what’s going on with the national organization. Reports here, and at other sites tend to be loaded with gossip and venom.

    Meanwhile those who work with or in opposition to each other in a more civil manner tend not to join in these gossip fests. This leaves many readers with a skewed image of what the national party is like. If it was an accurate representation, the LNC and national offices wouldn’t be so relatively ‘powerful’ than the local parties. Hell, if what one reads was accurate, you’d be surprised the LNC ever agrees on what the time of day is, much less anything else.

    I know the obvious question is why am I still here, in the middle of this “gossip and venom?” I don’t know… masochism? 😉

    Seriously though, I’ve been asking myself that. I guess I chalk it up to the fact that there’s still some good information and discussion in some of what posted on this and other such sites, stuff I don’t get from the mainstream media, or even broader based libertarian media such as Reason or Liberty, as news about the LP is a little too much of a niche at the moment, even for them.

    I just try to keep a sense of perspective. That the little personality conflicts are more often than not pointless. But so many have lost prespective.

    In the fight for the ‘soul of the LP’, we may well lose the fight for our rights and liberties.

    I’m not saying we should have one big group hug, and magically all our differences will melt away. I’m saying take whatever differences we have and have it drive you to build your little part of the libertarian movement up. Competition via achieving more than the other guy, not trying to tear down other libertarians.

    I know some of you will snap back at me saying “so-and-so is really a threat”. Well, for those of you, I guess there’s nothing I can say to persuade. So be it. I just will endeavor to tune it out to the best of my ability. I’ve heard for a decade now cries of doom and gloom about the national party. It’s time for Chicken Little to get a new act.

    The sky isn’t falling around the Libertarian Party. But at all levels, government power is growing out of control. And I see libertarians in and out of the party sniping at each other. “So and so’s not serious enough,” “The other guy’s not agreeing with me on X,Y, and Z.” Meanwhile.

  11. Ah… I hit Submit while still rambling on. Probably just as well. 1AM posting seems to find my internal editor asleep. 😉

    Again, I go on because sometimes I even lose prespective and think all this gossip is a major hazard. We’re just mistaking rivals for enemies. Please make the distintion.

    Good Night.

  12. BTW, all apologies to Peter Orvetti. Much of the above had little to nothing to do with your post. It was crap that was on my mind, and all came out here.

    Again, Good night.

  13. Peter wrote, “Even though I once worked for the national party, I am no longer sure having a strong centralized operation is a good thing for the LP. The action is at the state and local level, and it is hard for a Washington office to really understand what is going on there and support the work without stomping in like a lumbering giant and disrupting activists’ efforts. Perhaps a federation of state affiliates with a loose national component, existing less to lead than to coordinate and fundraise, would be better.”

    It is an excellent criticism. The Boston Tea Party is working without any budget for the national party – our bylaws forbid it. All the fund-raising and all the structure has to be at the state level or at the campaign level.

    Nevertheless, I’m working to make sure that the national party stays aware of activities and events in each state. I’m aware that the national LP often fails to mention candidates running on the party’s ticket in many, if not most, of the states. It is often disheartening for a candidate to be running for office and his own political party doesn’t mention it – so his friends in the party aren’t even aware of his candidacy.

    Michael Wilson’s comments echo things that Angela Keaton has told me. Many of the people at large and in charge at LP HQ are simply incompetent. They don’t know what they’re doing. This explains much, but not all, of the problems. There is also a thick, pulsing vein of corruption.

    It is corruption when the officers and staff of the party show bias prior to the nominating convention, and during it. It is corruption when the staff of the party are hired to work for one of the campaigns, again before the convention. It is corruption when the senior staffer is forced to resign and then larded with huge payments from a party that is strapped for cash. It was corruption when crap like this happened in 1996. I didn’t like it then, and after following up for some time, I stopped being a member. It was crap in 2004, and Charles Jay left the party to form Personal Choice. Still other crap in 2006, the evisceration of the platform, caused Tom Knapp to organise the Boston Tea Party. And more of the same this year has caused our party organisation to explode with growth – as if a single crystal of catalyst had been dropped into a vat of super saturated solution.

    You can say what you like about incompetence being a better explanation than malice, but I’ve seen malice enough for several tomes. Incompetence can explain away some things that might look like malice, but malice cannot explain away any amount of incompetence. There’s plenty of both.

    And it is time that Americans organise for freedom in effective ways. It is essential to realise that we’re involved in a revolution, whether we like it or not. They have come for the street preachers and the dope smokers, they have come for the airline travelers and the speeders, and they are coming for you and for me. The government is spying on domestic activists and peace groups because it is determined to engage in more war, war for the sake of profits, war for the sake of control, war for power and for corruptly allocated contracts.

    The structures which make the Boston Tea Party effective are openness, member control, and decentralisation of both authority and money. The state affiliates choose who to endorse, how to raise money, and where to spend it. The members control the national party and have the power to over-rule any action by the national committee – a policy we’ve encouraged down the line in the state affiliates. Most of all, our deliberations are online, in writing, and open to everyone in the party to see.

    There’s nothing magic about it. We have no special incantation or formula. The people who run the LP could adopt similar measures – but they won’t. They don’t want openness, as they have repeatedly shown. The insider clique thinks they own the party – even at the expense of members not willing to renew. The insider clique won’t put up with even members of the LNC reviewing their actions, or even asking questions, as Angela Keaton has been brutally shown. And the state affiliates in the party are kept weak, prevented from having their own web sites not tied to the national domain name, kept in the dark, fed manure, and when any of them get too big, finding their heads chopped off – classic mushroom management.

    So if the members of the LP want to fix it or salvage it, the thing to do is force the issues. Make change happen by withholding money from the party. It’s all the people who run the insider clique care about. And while you are waiting for that to work, you can still be involved in libertarian politics. Run the same candidates in your state. If they are truly for a smaller gov’t, the Boston Tea Party is likely to endorse them.

    And maybe, after a few years, we’ll discover that we don’t need the rotting cesspool of LP national. What if, instead of a new boss (same as the old boss) you became your own boss?

    Centralisation doesn’t work. A command economy doesn’t work. The economies of scale are nothing compared to the unserved market share. Mass production fits everyone like the bed of Procrustes – if you like having your legs chopped off. Centralised education policy has resulted in lousy schools. And centralised, nationalised power has led to foreign wars and the American occupation of nearly every country on Earth.

    Decentralisation works better. A free market economy works better. Niche marketing works better. Customised production works better. Home schooling – the ultimate in decentralised, customised education, works better. And since these things are true, why expect a centralised Libertarian Party national organisation to work?

  14. Anyone see the profile of Wayne Root at Bob Barr’s campaign web site?

    It’s completely devoid of any reference of Root’s gambling and gaming activities.

    From as of the time and date of this posting ….

    Meet Wayne Allyn Root

    Wayne Allyn Root is the 2008 Libertarian Party Vice Presidential nominee. Founder and Chairman of a successful small business, Wayne is a self-made businessman as well as an author and television producer. Wayne’s professional life has focused in the realm of business, though he maintains a deep interest in the political sphere in addition to his commercial pursuits. This dynamic has created a political perspective similar to that of the average American, and the air of a true “citizen-politician.”

    Wayne graduated from Columbia University in 1983, with a degree in political science. He initiated his television career as an anchorman for the Financial News Network (now CNBC) and has experienced significant success in this sector. Since then, Wayne has developed and produced numerous television shows, many of which he himself hosted. In addition to his own shows, Wayne has been a guest on several network television talk shows, including stations like CNBC, Fox News Channel, and MSNBC.

    Wayne has also authored six books and appeared on numerous, highly recognized radio shows. Due to his success as an entrepreneur and businessman, Wayne has been featured and profiled in various newspaper and magazine articles; those on the list include The Wall Street Journal, CNN/Money, and Fortune.

    Though constantly kept busy with business and politics, Wayne has still made time to home school his four children – a choice he and his wife opted over government sponsored public schools. Wayne is a Lifetime member of the Libertarian Party, and proudly dedicated to the cause of liberty.

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