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 Orvetti.com 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.