The Perception, Purpose, and Strategy of the Libertarian Party.
Let me start off by letting a lot of you down. This is not a hit piece to trash the Libertarian Party. I may very well get to one at some point, but for now I am going to speak with a great deal of sympathy for the LP. Though I personally feel as though I’ve moved beyond electoral politics, I recognize the Libertarian Party as an institution with the potential to do a great deal of good in the world. I genuinely would like to see that good come to fruition, and so I write this article in the sincere hope that some of the folks involved in this body take heed to my advice.
It is most unfortunate that I deleted the recordings of it, but back in 2009, or 2010 when I was first getting involved in the “liberty movement” I had a pathetic little podcast on Blog Talk Radio called “Welcome to the Real World” or something to that effect. During that time, I had the distinct pleasure of speaking to Libertarian Party founder, David Nolan.
David surely knew, or could have known, that I had no listeners. He had nothing to gain, politically, monetarily, or otherwise by entertaining my early entry to libertarian content production. I was just a guy who was somewhat well versed in the history of the US Constitution, almost all of which I had learned from Michael Badnarik videos on YouTube at the time. I was running for the US House of Representatives at the time on the Libertarian line, but we’ll rewind to that in a little while.
When I spoke to David Nolan, he told me that he always intended for the Libertarian Party to be an educational institution. An institution to spread the message of liberty, to be a focal point for the movement, to influence other political parties, and to count libertarians through the voting system. Winning elections certainly wasn’t something he was opposed to, but it was not the intended function of the institution. In fact, if you read his article “The Case for a Libertarian Political Party” from the July/August 1971 issue of “The Individualist”, he outlines a list of reasons for starting it, and winning elections is only added almost as a footnote at the very end of the article.
With several years of study having passed, and the unfortunate passing of Mr. Nolan, I look back on our interview and see him for a really great man. He created the third largest political party in the United States, and nearly forty years later took the time out of his day to encourage me, this absolute nobody at the time, to spread the message of liberty. I’d like to think his time was wisely invested, as I am today one of the most popular libertarian content producers on planet Earth.
The Libertarian Party has won very few elections in its history. Those few elections that it has won, have done little to nothing in the way of repealing laws, or doing anything meaningful legislatively, executively, or judicially. In fact, I’d be willing to bet that winning candidates who were endorsed by the Libertarian Party have actually gone on to expand the State, as all elected politicians inevitably do.
Despite this, I see the institution as a success in many ways.
My long time subscribers will recall that my entry into libertarianism came as the result of my being arrested on felony charges for a victimless crime. That fiasco is a subject for other material, but to make a long story short, I saw what the government was doing to me as this horrific injustice that deprived me of everything I had. I desperately sought out some group of people to attach myself to, who understood this, and that led me to the Libertarian Party.
Through that institution, I met some of the closest friends I have today. I was encouraged to fight for freedom. I learned about parliamentary procedure. I was exposed to these amazing perspectives on history and economics that I may otherwise never have discovered. I had meaningful political discussions, perhaps for the first time in my life. It was truly profound, what I stumbled across in this comparatively rag tag group of individuals with no political power whatsoever. So per David’s intentions, the LP served the purpose of educator, at least in this case.
As a member of the Libertarian Party, I was encouraged to run for political office. I accepted this challenge, and in 2010 I ran as a Libertarian for the US House of Representatives in New York’s first congressional district. This endeavor taught me the lesson that all libertarians must at some point learn. That the institution of government, is so incredibly corrupt and dishonest, that no honest human being can simultaneously participate in it and maintain their integrity.
There were a number of factors that caused my run for office to ultimately turn me from flag waving patriot to flag burning anarchist. The most obvious of which were the ballot access laws in New York. I literally got more ballot access signatures than the guy who won the election, and I still was not eligible for the ballot. The laws there unapologetically discriminate against independent and third party candidates. Not in some discreet manner, but rather openly in such a fashion that anybody who can do preschool math can plainly see. In my case, the major political party candidates needed 1250 signatures, and the independent candidate needed 3500. If more than doubling the entry barrier for independents over incumbents isn’t discrimination, I don’t know what is. This is no secret, it is codified into the laws.
Still, that barrier can be escaped with a little bit of geography. In a place like New Hampshire, ballot access is a monetary question, and it is not very expensive.
More importantly, and more universally, it is impossible to compete in politics as an honest person. When your opponents are willing to tell people whatever they want to hear, and you are honor bound to tell people that the government has nothing good to offer them, people prefer the comforting lies over the harsh truth. When your opponent dodges questions as to not upset anyone, and you speak the plain truth, you will inevitably gain more enemies as a percentage of the number of people you reach.
The Libertarian Party can handle this barrier in one of two ways. One of which can help grow the movement, educate the public, and bring about real change. The other is perhaps the most tragically misled strategic blunder a radical movement could make.
On the one hand, the party can run candidates who are not terribly interested in winning elections or making changes within the system. This approach frustrated me when I first entered the Libertarian Party. I wanted to solve the problem, and expending all those resources with the intention of losing an election, seemed counterproductive to me at the time. However, I did later see the wisdom in it.
In my election, I had no chance of winning. I tried to convince myself that I did, but that was absurd. I would not stray from the message of liberty as I understood it, and in any case I had no money and I really was not the type you put out there for the kind of scrutiny a candidate for office gets. I had a criminal record, I was on trial for a felony DWI, and shortly after the election, I actually ended up in jail for that.
What I did manage to accomplish was talking to thousands of people both at public speaking events, and shaking hands on the street. When one runs for office, and portrays themselves as a candidate for political positions, it has a psychological effect on the people they speak to. In logic, we call this “appeal to authority” and it is a fallacy. When you portray yourself as an authority figure, people listen to you more than if you are just some activist with a sign in your hands.
In my case, I was running for the US House, and as I gathered ballot access petitions, I would explain to people on the street that I was running for office and needed their help to get on the ballot. This inevitably led them to ask me questions about my positions, beliefs, and stances on particular issues. My response was inevitably that government could not solve their problems, and that markets could do a better job. Most people had never heard a politician say this before, and so it led to hundreds of very interesting discussions. To this day, I still bump into people from time to time who remember those conversations, and it honestly led a number of them to reconsider their belief in government.
This, in my opinion, is the purpose of the Libertarian Party. To serve as a place for new activists to get involved, and as a way for those activists to educate the public. In my case, I think it suited this purpose extraordinarily well.
The other strategy is entirely too prevalent and it is what has led so many people away from this otherwise noble institution. Endorsing and supporting candidates who are not consistent messengers of liberty, in hopes that it will gain them political power and or favor. This happens all the time, perhaps the most notable case would be Bob Barr’s presidential race. I watched this happen again, last night at a meeting of the Libertarian Party of Suffolk County, NY.
Grant Lally is a Republican candidate for the US House of Representatives in New York’s third congressional district. In New York, there is a thing known as cross endorsement, where a candidate can run as a member of multiple political parties. Lally has the nod from the Republican party, the Conservative Party, and it now appears he will have the nod from the Libertarian Party as well.
Mr. Lally presented himself to us as a “philosophical libertarian” he told us that he had read Mises and Hayek. He founded chapters of the Federalist Society. Sounds pretty libertarian, right?
He also worked as an attorney for the George W. Bush administration. He did not seem to draw much of any distinction between conservatism, and libertarianism. When I asked him where he thought the two philosophies differed, specifically as it pertained to foreign policy and immigration, he began speaking about domestic surveillance being out of control in the United States instead of answering my question.
After some prodding, Mr. Lally said he didn’t think there was a libertarian position on foreign policy. That to him, applying “idealistic” approaches to foreign policy was dangerous. He has a “do what is in the best interests of the country” approach to foreign policy. So, if in all his infinite wisdom, it is best to go to war, then the country goes to war. If, in the opinion of the governing authorities here, it is best to prop up puppet dictators in other parts of the world, then that is exactly what Mr. Lally would vote for. Economic sanctions, which Ron Paul called an act of war, no problem for Mr. Lally. The non aggression principle was never mentioned at the meeting.
When asked about the Federal Reserve, Grant Lally talked about severed human hands being used as currency in the Congo to demonstrate why a money supply should be limited, an attention grabbing way to illustrate a point no doubt. He also correctly points out that pretty much every monetary system is run by a central bank, but goes on to explain that he’s not convinced the US Federal Reserve is any worse than any other, and so provides no strong opposition to its existence.
Sure he gives us the currently popular Republican talking points of repealing Obamacare, and cutting taxes and red tape. These things sound good to libertarians on many levels, and so there is a temptation to lend support to candidates who would do these things. He also acknowledges on some level that the police State is out of control, but at least in our meeting, made no proposal for eliminating agencies or doing anything to stop this from happening.
Cutting taxes does not a messenger of liberty make. Mr. Lally will now go on to tell his constituents that he has the support of the libertarian party, while entertaining insane foreign policy positions. He will make no strong stance against the Federal Reserve. He will, in every way, be indistinguishable from any moderately conservative Republican candidate. To facilitate this, the Libertarian Party will expend human and monetary resources that are in already severely short supply. Petitioners will carry clipboards and talk to voters about their candidate, and when asked about his positions on foreign and monetary policy, no libertarian answer will be forthcoming.
In the end, if Grant Lally is not elected, then all those resources will have been expended at no benefit to the Libertarian Party whatsoever. If he is elected, the outcome will be identical as it pertains to the Libertarian Party, because Mr. Lally’s allegiance is not to the LP. If he has no trouble standing before us and saying that he favors foreign meddling both economically and militarily, he’s obviously more than willing to do without our support now, and once in power he is terribly unlikely to think he needs us as an incumbent.
I really don’t mean to pick on Mr. Lally or the Suffolk LP here either. I’m just using this as an example fresh in my own mind. There are plenty of examples, like Dan Halloran. This sort of thing is entirely too common in the Libertarian Party, and electoral politics in general. My point is more that the idea of actual freedom is a radical notion. It is necessarily a thing undertaken by a minority. It therefore has no hope of winning popular elections, and diluting the message in hopes of making it more popular is illusory.
If the Libertarian Party wants to serve its purpose, and efficiently allocate their very meager resources, they should do so as David Nolan intended, as an educational institution. Serve as a place to recruit and train new activists. Serve as a place that helps educate the public. Don’t moderate yourselves, radicalize others instead. I am proof you are capable of accomplishing this goal, and whatever your opinion of me personally, I think we can agree that the last thing the State wants, is thousands of Chris Cantwells running around sowing dissent.
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